Nocturnal Animals – 5 stars
An unsettling and very smart film, writer-director Tom Ford (A Single Man) autopsies the relationship of Susan and Tony (Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal) while recounting a murder story. The former is seen in flashback, as Adams, a successful, chic but deeply unhappy art dealer, is presented with her ex-husband’s novel as a prelude to their meeting after a long separation. That relationship blooms as most do – with fire, unwavering support and the feel of having found a soulmate. It is eventually undercut by Gyllenhaal’s lack of sophistication, emotional instability and the fact that, as Adams’ patrician mother (Laura Linney) wickedly tells her, “he’s too weak for you.” As Linney deliciously explains, “Come on, Susan. I know you think that we don’t care about the same things, but you’re wrong. In a few years, all these bourgeois things, as you so like to call them, are going to be very important to you, and Edward’s not going to be able to give them to you. He has no money, he’s not driven, he’s not ambitious. And I can promise you, if you marry Edward, your father’s not going to give them to you either.” As Adams sits in her classy LA house, a living embodiment of her mother’s prediction, she awaits her reconnection with Tony and starts to read his book, an engrossing tale which ends in a chilling act of brutality that seems directed right at Adams.
The performances are astounding. Since Zodiac and through Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal exudes a compelling mix of sincerity and if not menace, danger, it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. Adams is properly fragile and haunted, with a lacquered face that evokes a cracking shell. Linney’s one-scene turn is for the ages, and the contributions of Michael Shannon as a taciturn Texas lawman and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as his frightening quarry are riveting.
Ford has crafted an original, intricate form of noir that is unnerving and unmannered. Likely not everyone’s cup of tea, but I can’t remember a film I’ve concentrated on as much as this one for some time. It was one of the best from last year.