Director, co-producer and script adaptor Tom Ford’s first film (the Colin Firth-starring A Single Man) made quite an impact, and its considerable cred surely led him to being able to handle this major studio effort, with big names, serious prestige and, shall we say, a decidedly dark view of humanity.
Drawn from Austin Wright’s novel Tony And Susan, this has Amy Adams (just after she did Arrival) as rich and insomniac art gallery owner Susan Morrow, whose unhappy life and unfulfilling work (which provides the pretty startling opening credit sequence, so don’t be late) is sorely getting her down. When she receives a package from her long-unseen ex-husband Edward Sheffield, it turns out to be a manuscript of his soon-to-be-published novel titled, of course, Nocturnal Animals, and dedicated to her, much to her increasing unease.
Nocturnal Animals (the book) then becomes a narrative-within-the-narrative, as we watch the disturbing tale of the Hastings family – Dad Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), Mum Laura (Isla Fisher) and teen daughter India (Ellie Bamber) – taking a road trip down a dark and isolated West Texas highway and finding themselves waylaid by a carload of good/bad-ol’-boys ring-mastered by the loathsome Ray Marcus (Buckinghamshire-born actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson a.k.a. Kick-Ass). And there are plot tricks and aces, one of which has already been given away, with Gyllenhaal turning up not only as the fictitious Tony but Edward himself in flashbacks, and creepy cross-cutting exposing parallels between Nocturnal Animals the movie and Nocturnal Animals the book. No wonder Amy’s Susan grows ever more freaked out. Just like us.
With many players turning up in small roles (Michael Shannon is prominent as grim lawman Bobby Andes, but there’s also Armie Hammer as Susan’s chilly second husband Hutton, Laura Linney briefly as her snooty Mom, and more), this is unusually nasty at times, and yet Amy gives it heart and Ford’s cool handling rarely falters. But it’s not one for a fun night out at the movies or (yikes!) a first date, as this is the kind of pic that leaves you feeling dirty – and not in a good way.