Film Review: Nocturnal Animals (MA15+) (USA, 2016) is one of the best films of the year

Better known as one of the world’s greatest fashion designers, Tom Ford proves himself every inch the competent filmmaker with Nocturnal Animals.  Verifying his debut feature A Single Man was no flash in the pan either, Ford juxtaposes a relationship drama feature with a violent revenge tale in such an effortless fashion you’d swear you were watching the work of a seasoned director.  Cross-cutting between his various stories without sacrificing their individual ingredients, Ford has delivered an enthralling film that not only demands your attention but deserves it as well.

Whilst the advertisements for this film are selling it mainly on the revenge tale that’s encapsulated inside the titular manuscript that unhappy art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) reads throughout, her own story is just as compelling; the actress providing fine work in a cultured character study of a middle-aged woman who chose luxury over love and is living regretfully with that decision.  The scenes involving Adams are sumptuously shot by Ford, with the actress lounging around in formal wear coming off more like a photoshoot for Vanity Fair, but it’s this artificial elegance that gives her plight a sense of fantasy, allowing the more violent tale she’s evaluating to be voluntarily digestible given how dark the film ultimately becomes.

As the film drops details of Susan’s relationship breakdown with her writer ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), the hopeless marriage she finds herself in presently (with Armie Hammer as her new husband), and the strained rapport she shares with her mother (Laura Linney in a dynamite appearance), Nocturnal Animals refuses to wallow entirely in gorgeous melodrama as it cuts to the aforementioned manuscript, a malicious vengeance thriller that Susan interprets as a veiled threat.  Though it’s just as striking to view as Adams’ set-piece (Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is uniformly stunning throughout) this portion of the film is particularly gritty.  Gyllenhaal (contrasting the characteristically frailer ex-husband he appears as opposite Adams) continues to demonstrate his strength as a chameleon-like performer as a husband who is driven off the road one night and witnesses the kidnapping of both his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber).

Assisting Gyllenhaal’s Tony in finding his family is cowboy-like cop Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon, arguably earning the film’s juiciest role), a no-nonsense officer dying of lung cancer who’s armed with grit and determination to find those responsible; a menacing Aaron Taylor-Johnson leads the charge as the guilty party.  Sequences involving these three highly distinct male characters are some of the film’s best, with the unhinged Taylor-Johnson, the alpha-come-sympathetic Shannon, and the scared but stern Gyllenhaal all playing off each other with glee.

Given how the film is banded together it’s a surprise that Nocturnal Animals flows as coherently as it does, and those willing to participate in Ford’s deliciousness will be well rewarded; assuming you can stomach the sure-to-be-infamous opening credits.  It’s entertaining, captivating, mesmerising…it’s all the showy words we critics use to describe something that must be seen – without a doubt this is one of the best films of the year.


Nocturnal Animals opens in Australian cinemas this Thursday.


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Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.