Nocturnal Animals (2016) | Venice 2016 | Grand Jury Prize

November 1st, 2016
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Tom Ford | Cast: Jake Gyllenhal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Michael Sheen

116min | drama | US

Like his handmade suits or ballgowns, Tom Ford’s films are always beautiful and well-crafted and his Venice competition hopeful NOCTURNAL ANIMALS adds some inventive and surprising detailing to its exciting plot: there are shades of David Lynch, Nicholas Winding Refn and even Paul Verhoeven to this darkly louche and occasionally sordid thriller that takes you to unexpected places, even if it takes its time in getting there.

This is his most intriguing film so far and also feels like his most confident and sure-footed with its well chosen cast, fabulous locations and the sheer swaggering boldness of its aesthetic, complemented by Abel Korzeniowski’s sinister and suggestive score,   marking Ford out to be an accomplished storyteller as well as a accomplished couturier to the rich and famous. Suave and intoxicating, the narrative interweaves three strands that visit the present and past reality, and depart into a darkly imagined cul de sac that serves as a timely retribution for its heroine’s mispent romantic past.

As with A Single Man, Ford has adapted his script, this time from American novelist Austin Wright’s 1993 Tony and Susan, and the film’s title comes from the book within that novel. As the piece plays out it emerges that nocturnal animal was the name given to the heroine (Amy Adams) by her author and now ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) on account of her inability to sleep.

The film opens as Adams’ Susan is a successful gallery owner living in a sumptuous modernist lakeside home in LA and married to an attractive husband (Armie Hammer) who sleeps around. While he is away in New York one weekend, she receives a manuscript of her ex husband’s book and reading it she is drawn into its shady and provocative storyline that appears to shadow their former life together – 20 years ago –  in ways that are both louche and disturbing, leaving her emotionally shaken up and stirred.

Although outwardly a consummate professional, Adams’ vulnerability smoulders under her impeccable tailoring (Gucci?) and after a telling phonecall with her husband, she drifts off into a reverie of her past love life while she reads Edward’s manuscript. It tells how Tony (Gyllenhaal again), is driving in West Texas with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their precocious daughter India (Ellie Bamber) when their car is ramrodded by a trio of menacing hoodlums (one is Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and the saga does not end well. Susan is transfixed by the novel through the small hours as flashbacks of her former life remerge to taunt and shame her. Gripped by its sordid storyline she reads on: enter Michael Shannon’s seedy sheriff Bobby Andes who is determined to track down the perps and – in an unexpected twist – not afraid to serve mean justice on them due to his terminal cancer. Back in her bedroom Susan realises the error of her ways reflecting on how she left Edward because he lacked the backbone to follow his dreams.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is packed with fabulous performances from Laurie Linney in cameo as Susan’s patrician mother, Michael Sheen as a gay man married to her best friend , Jena Malone as a gallery assistant, and Shannon as the quinessential hard bitten chain-smoking cop and the narrative strands cleverly dovetail into the satisfying finale that combines a gritty sun-drenched Western with the steely glamour of frigid LA.

Apart from the Seamus McGarvey’s brilliant visuals there is plenty of amusing texture to keep you on your toes in the meticulous masterpiece – from twinking nightscapes to witty interludes and Adams is luminuous as Susan in her second appearance here at Venice Film Festival. MT


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