Film review: Nocturnal Animals

by **


Toggling between the breathtaking high-ceiling-and-glass architecture in Los Angeles and the dry, dusty Texan brushland Nocturnal Animals places art and life on a collision course, freighted with retaliation and regret.

It is the explicit imagery sparked on impact, however, that suffocates of nuance and enticing ambiguity this feature by Tom Ford.

Susan (Amy Adams), an accomplished gallery owner, receives the manuscript of a novel, entitled Nocturnal Animals, from her former spouse, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). With her current husband (Armie Hammer) on another alleged business trip, she starts to read the book.

Dramatising the written narrative Ford introduces us to Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal), a family man taking his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) on a road-trip to Marfa, Texas.

As night falls the travellers find themselves accosted by a group of brutish young men who take away the women. Tony is abandoned among the white windswept grass and country ruin.

While she follows Tony in the quest to avenge his loss, Susan begins gradually to cast Edward as the protagonist, and herself and their (hers and Edward’s) never-born baby the wife and child forced from Tony — a reasonable premise given the way readers tend to people characters in fiction.

Intuitively photographed by Seamus McGarvey, who brings equal care to contrast the raw humanity in the printed tale and reality’s myriad absurdities, Tony goes on to reveal a strength he doubted he had, and within the sub-text Edward, too, demonstrates a resilience he was made to feel he did not have.

The film, adapted from Tony and Susan, a publication by Austin Wright, effects with deftness the journey after love is lost down the path of anguish. There is no distinction here from bereavement by death.

Long and lugubrious Nocturnal Animals, nevertheless, spells out its themes too extravagantly, that complex enigma essential for good cinema struggles for air. In one scene, as Susan stares up at a massive work of painting made up only of an arrangement of the letters R-E-V-E-N-G-E, you feel in one spectacular let-down to be watching a school drama.

Fortunately, Ford leaves the biggest conundrum unresolved. I like to think he acknowledges there is no clear answer whether vengeance is really the face of toughness, or a mask to hide weakness.