Tom Ford’s noir thriller ‘Nocturnal Animals’ has style to burn

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Tom Ford’s literary noir also features a smokin’ performance from Michael Shannon
Image: focus features

TORONTO I cant speak to Tom Fords brilliant fashion sense because I still wear Gold Toe socks, but as a director, he has a perfectionists eye for detail.

Each shot in his nifty noir thriller Nocturnal Animals is pristine and art-directed to within an inch of its life. His actors look like models posing for the camera, even when they’re answering nature’s call.

A well-done revenge movie with a stylized sheen and a literary gloss, Nocturnal Animals stars Amy Adams as Susan, who is living the high life as an art gallery owner with a picture-perfect husband (Armie Hammer, disarmingly handsome), when one day a chilling manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) shows up at her cold, impersonal fortress of a home.

The novel (titled Nocturnal Animals, of course) is about a family of three Tony (Gyllenhaal), Laura (Adams’ red-headed doppelganger Isla Fisher) and their daughter India (Ellie Bamber) who end up playing a terrifying, high-speed game of chicken on a West Texas highway with a trio of young troublemakers led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Godzilla) in a ferocious, scene-stealing performance.

Following an audacious title sequence (Ford is ever the showman) featuring obese, naked dancers as part of an art exhibit, Nocturnal Animals intercuts between the thrilling story-within-the-story, Susan’s present day life and flashbacks to 19 years earlier when she was with Edward.

Back then he was a struggling novelist and she had little faith in him, eventually leaving him in a brutal way. That may explain why she never sleeps. Beneath her dark eyeshadow and curtain of red hair, Susan has a guilty conscience, and Adams plays the role with an air of detachment.

The first hour of the film is absolutely chilling, but the second half doesnt measure up despite the welcome addition of Michael Shannon as an ailing Texas lawman.

Besides Shannon, Nocturnal Animals is aided by Abel Korzeniowski’s sumptuous, piercing score, Seamus McGarvey’s meticulous cinematography and some lovely costumes (keep an eye out for Jena Malone’s outfit) from Arianne Phillips, all of whom could find themselves in the awards conversation.

But Ford’s most precious collaborator is Taylor-Johnson, who gives this movie a jolt of wild-eyed unpredictability.

An anti-climactic if ambiguous ending speaks volumes, even if it’s hard to understand what Ford is trying to say. Perhaps its that the best revenge is to not say anything at all. After all, talk is cheap, while “writing is a way of keeping things alive,” as Edward explains it.

Enjoy the absurdity of our world. Its less painful than the real one,” an unhappy Adams is advised early on by Michael Sheen, playing the gay husband to an unrecognizable Andrea Riseborough.

That’s isn’t always true, however. Sometimes, reality can be as scary as anything you read in a book.

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