Nocturnal Animals
dir-scr Tom Ford
prd Tom Ford, Robert Salerno
with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Karl Glusman, Robert Aramayo, Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough
release UK 4.Nov.16, US 18.Nov.16
16/US Focus 1h55
Nocturnal Animals
On the case: Gyllenhaal and Shannon

adams taylor-johnson hammer
venice film fest
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Nocturnal Animals For his second film as writer-director, Tom Ford takes on an ambitious, three-sided story that's a romantic drama, violent thriller and darkly internal odyssey. Of course it all looks gorgeous, designed and edited to perfection. And it's packed with terrific moments that hit us right between the eyes with intensity and emotion. But some elements outshine the others, which throws things somewhat off balance.

Los Angeles gallery owner Susan (Adams) lives in modernist splendour with her banker husband Hutton (Hammer), so she's taken aback when she receives a manuscript of a novel by her starving-artist ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal). As she reads it, she pictures him in the central role as a man menaced by a Texas thug (Taylor-Johnson) and his pals, as they brutally kidnap and murder his wife and daughter (Fisher and Bamber). Seeking justice, he works with Lt Andes (Shannon), a jaded cop who's willing to bend the rules.

As it progresses, this fictional narrative becomes the heart of the film, gripping the audience with its twists and turns, and most notably the moral dilemmas presented to Gyllenhaal's victim, who has nothing more to lose. Although his story isn't actually more compelling than Susan's relationships with Edward and Hutton, both of which play out with complex wrinkles. And Susan's private journey provides a line right through all the plot strands. But the wild Western thriller continually steals focus.

Similarly, Shannon has the most colourful role as a cop exhausted by what life has thrown him. Taylor-Johnson has a breathtaking clear-eyed swagger as the amoral brute. And in a one-scene appearance, Linney very nearly walks off with the movie as Susan's demanding socialite mother. But the story here is about Susan, and while Adams is exceptionally engaging and transparent, her scenes are so gloomy that they're difficult to sympathise with. Especially when she is the metaphorical villain of the piece. Gyllenhaal is a lot more sympathetic in both roles, and pours his soul into each man, often in wrenching ways.

Ford creates a terrific atmosphere for the story's three-sided front, using light and colour to make it very clear which narrative we're in and how they fit together. Some of the matching shots are breathtaking, and the overlapping themes get deep under the skin, raising big questions about the difficulty of ever finding happiness if you pursue success rather than love. Although the raw truth is that most of us are programmed to turn into our mothers.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, nudity .16

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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall