Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has a certain sadness in her eyes, much like her mother. At least that’s what she is told.
Like mother, like daughter?
A successful modern artist, she lives a largely unfulfilled life, rattling around in the huge, minimalist mansion that she shares with her mainly absent husband, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer). Theirs is a cold, rather loveless relationship, born out of material desires and misplaced priorities.
It’s also a relationship that came about in the most callous fashion, very much at the expense of Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), an author and Susan’s ex-husband.
Susan had married Edward much to the chagrin of her materialistic, Republican parents. Her mother, Anne, in particular, (a small cameo part by the excellent Laura Linney), had implored her not to go through with it. Against her mother’s advice, however, Susan gets married, but as the old saying suggests: “the apple never falls far from the tree,” and Susan’s inherited latent desire for material possessions, greater financial support and security leads her, in a calculated move, away from Edward, and into the arms of Hutton, a wealthy business man and second husband-to-be.
With the unfaithful Hutton away on yet another of his ‘business’ trips, and home alone as ever, Susan is surprised to receive a draft copy of Edward’s new novel in the post, entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals.’ This is a term that has significant personal meaning for her from her time together with Edward, many years earlier.
It’s the first contact the two of them have had for some nineteen years. Not only this, Edward has even dedicated his new book to her, citing Susan as his influence to finally be able to write something of worth and of which he is proud.
Excited by their renewed acquaintance, yet fully aware that she had never been supportive of Edward’s writing when they were together – in fact going as far as to suggest that he should return to school rather than continue with his creative passion – Susan is shocked at just how enthralling she finds his book. The novel’s content, however, gradually proves to be just a little too close to home for comfort.
Does this book merely strike a chord with a lonely, abandoned woman, or does Edward’s writing hint at something altogether more sinister? Some kind of stark reminder to Susan of tough times past, or worse still, a thinly-veiled threat of revenge?
Nocturnal Animals is director Tom Ford’s highly stylised thriller, based upon Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan. Essentially it’s three stories intertwined strategically. Susan’s current life, Susan’s lamentable past with Edward, and the narrative of Edward’s new novel.
Edward’s book is actually a fairly straight forward story of wrong-doing, regret and revenge, with Gyllenhaal, superb, cast for a second time as the story’s lead, Tony Hastings. He is a family man, driving through the night along a deserted West Texas highway with his wife and teenage daughter (Laura and India Hastings, played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber).
Tony and his family become unavoidably involved with a gang of rednecks en route who physically force their car off the road, and set about abusing them both physically and psychologically. It’s a set of events with life-changing consequences, and it’s only the efforts and single-mindedness of local Policeman, Bobby Andes, (the ever-excellent Michael Shannon), that ultimately convinces mild-mannered Tony that justice, no matter how, can and must be done.
Susan’s realisation that Edward’s book is perhaps less fictional yarn and more a poignant metaphor for their ill-fated years together, develops slowly but tellingly. Right down to the small details, the parallels that Edward draws between past life and fiction are striking and through his books characters, he systematically sets about attempting to right the wrongs and redress the issues of yesteryear; issues that he seems never to have been able to come to terms with.
Such is the temptation and ease with which Tony’s story can be misinterpreted as an extension of Edward’s subsequent life, post-Susan, and so engaging is his tale, that it’s actually very easy to blur the lines here between reality and fiction, rendering us unable or even unwilling sometimes to separate the two, leading this viewer at least, to begin to doubt his own interpretation of the film’s events.
Far from this being a negative point though, such confusion merely makes us probe ever deeper, immersing ourselves in, and reading between the lines of, Edward’s metaphorical tale.
Nocturnal Animals is visually sumptuous (shades of The Neon Demon and Only God Forgives), as one would expect from director, and fashioner designer, Tom Ford.
It’s slick without sacrificing any of its edge. It’s beautifully paced, and above all, incredibly involving from start to finish, with a top class cast that extracts the very maximum from Ford’s impressive screenplay.
Like some sort of perfect storm of style, substance, and impact, Tom Ford has struck just the right balance to produce a film that burns itself deep in the ol’ grey matter.
Expect this to feature come awards season.