Tom Ford's sophomore film Nocturnal Animals is a grim neo-Western that is beautiful and brutal in equal measure.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is an art gallery owner in a loveless marriage with her distant husband Hutton (Armie Hammer); haunted by her past misdeeds concerning her first husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) via a novel that has written and dedicated to her, Susan finds herself gripped by the violent fiction and sees it as a veiled threat and symbolic tale of revenge.
Ford transitions in and out of Sheffield's novel as well as switching between Susan's past and present with ease; the non-linear narrative doesn't feel confusing or convoluted for one second. Everything fits together like a neat jigsaw and the parallels between Susan's life and Sheffield's fiction are captivating and clever.
Adams serves up another brilliant performance that is miles away from the recent Arrival; Susan is sultry and seductive but also feels past her prime and is at a loss emotionally. It's a meaty role for Adams to sink her teeth into and that she does most of her acting opposite a book speaks volumes about how great her performance is.
Gyllenhaal is great too; his dual roles give him the room to really emote, whether playing the scorned lover or the desolate widower, he once again mixes subtlety with bursts of powerful emotion.
Shoutout to Michael Shannon as the smooth, slightly unhinged detective in Sheffield's novel as well as Aaron Taylor-Johnson positively terrifying criminal. I found myself wincing whenever Taylor-Johnson sauntered onto screen such was the sliminess of his portrayal.
Cheeky cameos from Laura Linney, Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough are blink and you'll miss it whilst Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber and Karl Glusman match the pulpy tragedy of the gritty novel well.
The score (from Abel Korzeniowski) is ace whilst Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is oozing with grime and boozy beauty.
My only gripe with the film is the misplaced notion that graphic nudity (all female) somehow plays an important role in crafting this thick envelope of sultriness. Ford slips a fair amount into his film and only on one occasion does it actually feel integral to the story. The rest is just a bit crass.
The Verdict: 8.5/10
Unashamedly pulpy and pernicious, Nocturnal Animals is an atmospheric thriller that sees Ford up his game and an array of Hollywood talent jump at the chance to get a little grubby in a complex revenge tale that stretches through Texas.
Nocturnal Animals is in cinemas across Australia now