Thursday, 2 February 2017

WILD AT HEART: Dark and intriguing Nocturnal Animals packs a ferocious bite

YOURS, TRULY: Amy Adams in a scene from Ford's provocative new film.

“I wanted you to be the first to read it.” Successful art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) is flattered but wary as she peruses the note accompanying the manuscript that just arrived from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a kind and decent guy to whom she did something “horrible” that brought an end to their marriage. So you totally understand her nervousness, 19 years later, as she starts reading the novel, a graphically violent work titled Nocturnal Animals. He used to call her “a nocturnal animal,” Susan confides to a friend. So why did he send her the manuscript? Is it a message?

That’s one of the most intriguing aspects of this provocative, stylishly rendered and compulsively watchable thriller from uber-fashion-designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford, who wrote the screenplay and directed the action. Based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, Nocturnal Animals is about betrayal, pride, dignity, choices and consequences and revenge served chillingly cold. It’s frequently suspenseful and pulse-pounding and puts you in a state of apprehension. You simply can’t wait to see what happens next and how it will all end. It’s quite a wild ride.

The action, which benefits from Ford’s sure-handed direction, unfolds via non-linear storytelling, moving between Susan’s life in the present-day art world, her sham of a second marriage to hunky Hutton (The Social Network’s Armie Hammer) and scenes from her courtship and marriage to Edward two decades ago. But what gives the movie its ferocious bite are the disturbing scenes and gripping narrative from Edward’s novel, which is centred on Tony Hastings, a young father and husband (also played by Gyllenhaal) laid bare by the brutal slayings of his wife and daughter.

The book introduces some truly despicable creatures, led by redneck roughneck Ray Marcus (played to the hilt by Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Michael Shannon is simply fantastic as Bobby Andes, the tough, no-nonsense cop investigating the murders and giving Tony a listening ear in his time of bereavement.

The musical score is a haunting, atmospheric delight, wonderfully capturing the mood and mystique of the film. Rounding out the film’s accomplished cast, meanwhile, are Michael Sheen in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him cameo as Susan’s friend Carlos, a gay connoisseur married to a woman (!) and Laura Linney as, Anne, Susan’s sternly disapproving mother – all pearls and big bouffant, doing her best Lady Astor impersonation. 

Nocturnal Animals is a decidedly dark and disturbing film, but like Ford’s fabulous debut A Single Man (with Colin Firth), it’s also a memorable work of art with flashes of genius, bold, vivid imagery and strong acting. With its unflinching meditation on how we hurt the ones we love, this is a film that stays with you long after the credits roll. To my mind, what Edward really wanted to say in that note to Susan is: Where do broken hearts go? Tyrone’s Verdict: B+

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