Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is centered on a woman living in a fancy world surrounded by her own boredom and regret at certain life choices. The film is an often fascinating mash-up of Hitchcock, a little De Palma inspired Hitchcock, and most surprisingly, a West Texas crime tale that looks and feels like this year’s earlier Hell or High Water. We also have a more conventional tale of a romance gone astray and the emotions involved with that. It’s a concoction that sometimes is a little messy, a tad campy at moments, veers in tone shifts, and is also directed a fashion designer who seems to know exactly what he wishes to fashion.
L.A. art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is living a wealthy life in an unhappy marriage and a career she’s grown to believe is purposeless. One day, she receives a manuscript. It’s from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that she was only married to for a couple years around college. The novel grabs her. It’s the aforementioned High Water looking story of a remarried Edward on a West Texas road trip with his wife and daughter when they are terrorized by bad guys led by a disheveled and effectively menacing Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Their encounter takes a dark and tragic turn and soon Edward is teaming up with a ranger (Michael Shannon, in a terrific performance) to deal with its aftermath.
The story cuts back and forth between the actions of Susan’s ex-flame’s West Texas narrative (is it real or not?) and her unhappy life on the West Coast. We also witness the courtship of them in college. This juxtaposition creates an often dream like quality (a little David Lynch thrown in for good measure) and it’s rather intoxicating. We basically get to know everything we need to know about Susan’s character in a great short scene with Laura Linney as her debutante mom. Other key characters and their motivations don’t become clear until later.
Nocturnal Animals looks gorgeous as you might expect from a designer that Jay-Z made a song about. The cinematography is stunning and the musical score is often reminiscent of something we’d hear in an old Hitch pic or perhaps De Palma homage. There are moments that recall Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon in plot had that movie actually succeeded. Tom Ford wears his influences proudly and unabashedly in his sophomore effort. It’s anything but boring.
***1/2 (out of four)