Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals could easily have been botched. In fact, for the first 10 or 15 minutes you can't help but watch a little skeptically as the two parallel stories, their characters, and the bleak morbid world that they inhabit are introduced, all with a waft of pretension and seriousness that would be repugnant if it lasted the course.

My apprehension regarding Nocturnal Animals wasn't really the film's fault, though. It was the fault of the likes of Misconduct, Girl On The Train, Shut In, Mojave, When The Bough Breaks, The Invitation, and The Whole Truth, all of which had been released in the last 12 months, and all of which had left me borderline depressed by their end credits as they tripped up over themselves trying to be taken seriously and surprise their viewers.

There was no need to worry when it came to Nocturnal Animals, though. That's because Nocturnal Animals is a poetic but brutal blending of the crime, noir, and thriller genres, which Tom Ford masterfully controls while getting mesmeric performances out of his esteemed cast. Plus, of course, it's utterly gorgeous to look at, too.

Nocturnal Animals opens on Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a gallery owner in Los Angeles, whose second marriage to Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer) is quickly deteriorating. Susan then receives a manuscript for a novel that has been written by his first husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), and she quickly becomes consumed by the story.

It's at this point that we're thrown into the novel, too, which revolves around Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura (Isla Fisher), and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) as they take a road trip through West Texas. They don't get very far before they're ambushed off the road by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and two other members of his gang, who kidnap Laura and India, leaving Tony to pair up with local detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to track them down.

The more Susan reads the story, though, the more she sees links to how poorly she treated Edward when they were married, as he was a struggling writer and her career went from strength to strength.

There's an awful lot in the above that could get mangled together in the wrong hands. Instead, director Tom Ford handles the multi-layered stories with aplomb, as they build in a subtle yet ultimately rousing manner. This is maintained throughout because of the emotional backbone to the story that, with the help of the hugely talented cast that Ford has at his disposal, pulls you closer and closer in. It also helps that Tom Ford doesn't pull any punches with Nocturnal Animals. He sticks to a cold realism and depressing eventuality that permeates through every character in both stories and brings a richness to the film.

Yet, at the same time, there's also a deft lyrical romanticism to Nocturnal Animals, especially in the storyline from the book, while it becomes more and more intense and thrilling as it builds to its devastating finale on both fronts. It's the sort of film that hits it stride so rigorously by the time of its conclusion that you could easily watch another half hour of it.

Like A Single Man, Tom Ford, who previously found fame as the creative director at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, brings his obligatory sense of fashion and beauty to every single frame. This, combined with the increasingly absorbing mixture of the stories, makes Nocturnal Animals flow like a concerto. There is even an elegance to both the emotional and physical brutishness of the film that means you just don't ever want to look away.

Speaking of its brutishness, Nocturnal Animals never strains or exaggerates its violence to try and shock or impress its viewers. The film has too much swagger for such frivolities. The stunning ensemble, some of which are only in the film for a scene or two, is proof of just how in demand Tom Ford is as a filmmaker. Which is understandable, because after A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals he's produced two distinctive and captivating pieces that made Hollywood's finest stars shine even brighter than usual.

Nocturnal Animals is a step-up on A Single Man, though, as Ford matches his effortlessly stylish eye with a cinematic edge that augments rather than dilutes the film. It's enough to make you selfishly pine for more than one film every seven years from the director. But if they're going to be of this high quality then we'll just have to make-do with the wait. Because Nocturnal Animals was more than worth it.

Gregory Wakeman