NOCTURNAL ANIMALS inexorable progression from a startling, unnerving open to the disturbing and fitting fadeout glues you into a nightmare, the kind that shakes you with the dread of cascading circumstance and sinks you with the conviction of its possibility, part elegant (rich visuals), part horrific (events and results).
Written & directed by Tom Ford in 2016, shrewdly adapted from Allen Wright’s 334-page 1993 novel “Tony and Susan”, changing settings and trimming incidentals down to a 116- minute running time, it tells parallel stories, linking past with present, success and failure, humiliation and revenge, alternating tonal temperature settings between the white heat of immediacy and a blue chill of clinical remove. Like a witnessed accident scene, it’s not close to anything like fun but it’s hard to look away from, and harder to dismiss.
Numbed by her deteriorating marriage, a trendy art gallery owner (Amy Adams) gets an enthralling manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she dumped for being insubstantial. The book relates the tragic trajectory of a family ambushed one night on an isolated West Texas road by a group of hooligans. Is the manuscript non-fiction or allegory, or both? Is he talking about her, or to her? Is the pretend story the real one, catharsis or retribution?
“Hey man, you know you’re supposed to stop when there’s an accident?”
The horror of the book-side of the story is more implied than shown, thanks to directorial restraint and editing skill, yet the threat is palpable enough to permeate and galvanize emotion. The subjective finish is just the last layer in a carefully calibrated, aesthetically seductive study of worth, merit and loss. The actors bring their skilled game, with the standout being another bone-deep marvel of concentrated conviction from Michael Shannon, Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor as the deadly honest detective ‘Bobby Andes’.
Music score from Abel Korzeniowski recalls John Barry. Produced for $22,500,000, it deserved a better result than its $30,600,000 take. With Aaron Taylor-Johnson (begging shotgun to the face), Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Isla Fisher, Michael Sheen, Ellie Bamber, Andrea Riseborough, Jena Malone, Karl Glusman and Robert Aramayo. Not for all tastes, evinced by reviews that split between captured or tormented. Next time you’re driving at night in the seemingly empty desert, marveling at the stars and picking out oldies on the distant radio stations, remember there are some other curious creatures sharing the dark solitude.