Based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan Nocturnal Animals is a thriller from writer and director Tom Ford. It’s stars Amy Adams as gallery owner Susan who receives the manuscript of a novel from her ex husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).
The bulk of the film actually tells the story of Edward’s novel, as we get what could be considered a film within a film. This secondary story follows Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal) who’s is attacked along with his wife and child on a through the night car journey, and he subsequently seeks justice on the three men that killed them with the help of detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon).
It’s a very clever story device as the secondary film itself could easily be an incredibly gripping and tense thriller on its own. The encounter between Tony, his family, and the criminals is so masterfully done. Ford builds the tension in the scene up and up until it is nearly unbearable, and keeps it at that level until we discover what has happened.
However intercut with Susan’s reactions and flashbacks of her relationship with Edward and it takes on a whole new meaning, reflecting their time together and how their relationship failed. It’s clear that Susan has huge regrets over the past relationship, as she is visibly depressed in her new life as her disinterested husband conducts an affair out of town.
This is really captured by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. The real world Susan inhabits is a colder far less picturesque one despite all the possessions money has given her. Meanwhile the world of the novel is a stunningly captured desert. The entire film looks beautiful, but McGarvey really gives each world its own unique look.
Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Shannon are all fantastic actors, and all three are right at their best in Nocturnal Animals. Gyllenhaal in particular stands out as he gives two performances as both Edward and Tony. The first is the more mild mannered author seen in only two or three flashbacks. Meanwhile it’s his role as Tony where he is able to really show his range.
From complete panic and desperation, to grief, to the steely resolve that he can only just maintain when he comes face to face with one of the attackers a second time. It’s a stunning performance, and right up there as one of the best of his career, although if he wasn’t nominated for Nightcrawler I’m not sure we can trust the academy to recognise his work here.
I came out of the cinema merely liking Nocturnal Animals, but it’s a film that has grown on me as I’ve thought about it over the couple of days since I saw it. A beautifully shot, tense thriller, with some great acting performances, and it’s a film that forces you to think about, and engage with it.