Film Review: ‘Nocturnal Animals’ Is a Sultry Treat From Tom Ford

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(ctr l-r.) Academy Award nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon star as Tony Hastings and Bobby Andes in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Focus Features release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

rsz_nan_bnnrjake_rgb_f30Tom Ford‘s seductive thriller “Nocturnal Animals” is hypnotic in every sense of the word. Exhibiting an all-star cast where everyone brings their A-game, this feature was even more compelling and infectious than his previously beloved, “A Single Man.” It’s a slick and sexy endeavor, assembling veteran craftsmen from all over the industry. Ford is a technical natural, building tension like a native language.

The film tells the story of an art gallery owner named Sarah (Amy Adams), who is haunted by her ex-husband Edward’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) novel. Sarah reads the violent thriller, which she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. However, she’s entranced by the story.

Suspenseful and emotionally complex, Ford constructs an invigorating portrait. He examines poignant matters of life, violence and regret. As someone who didn’t wholeheartedly buy into the fascination with Ford’s previous work, this just sang.  There’s a willingness for the film to take risks. It dives into the frailties and bewilderment that surrounds revenge and hatred. It’s sinister, and it pulls you in in much the same way that advocates for “Map to the Stars” were attracted to David Cronenberg’s weird little world. It’s a bravura neo-noir thriller, campy and alluring in all the best ways.

Nocturnal AnimalsFord’s prime focus is on his cast, and the film is better for it. Adams, who continues to explore her own sensibilities as an actress, is sincerely divine. Her sex appeal is revved up to 10, and it’s one of her most bewitching performances of her already stunning career. Gyllenhaal taps into a vulnerability we haven’t seen since his Oscar-nominated work in “Brokeback Mountain.” He aces the feel of an overlooked man, and portraying two different men.

If there is a chink in the armor for Ford, it’s some of the beats he creates for the character Ray Marcus, portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Taylor-Johnson rises to the occasion and is downright terrifying. Where it derails, however, are at the moments when his character’s behaviors feel almost like a cartoon. Taking a dump on his porch and wiping his rear-end for the viewer to see was a bit over-the-top for our liking.

One year after a snub from the Academy for his work in “99 Homes,” Michael Shannon makes his mark to ensure he won’t be forgotten again. As the rustic and energetic detective Bobby, it’s one of his most provocative imitations yet.

lauralinney_nocturnalanimalsIn a year that’s full of very brief, small supporting roles for women, Laura Linney tops the list. As Anne Sutton, Sarah’s mother, Linney is robust and actively rousing. It’s one of the best five-minute marks made by an actress in years, perhaps decades. We also get sprinkles of Michael Sheen, Armie Hammer and Isla Fisher who are all splendid.

The two most attractive technical components are the sumptuous camera work by Seamus McGarvey and the luxurious music by Abel Korzeniowski. In the case of McGarvey, he frames the seductive thriller and puts out his best effort since “Atonement.” Korzeniowski simply delivers the best score by any composer this year. Every chord is perfect.

“Nocturnal Animals” is a slick animal, one that you’re not prepared to love but absolutely do. It’s something we would have seen and revered in the 1990s, and in 2016, it’s a glossy and trashy psychological tale.

“Nocturnal Animals” is distributed by Focus Features and will be released on Nov. 18.

GRADE: (★★★½)

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Clayton Davis--prolific writer and autism awareness advocate of Puerto Rican and Black descent, known for his relentless passion, dedication, and unique aptitude. Over the course of a decade, he has been criticizing both film and television extensively. To date, he has been either featured or quoted in an array of prominent outlets, including but not limited to The New York Times, CNN.com, Variety, Deadline, Los Angeles Times, FOX 5, Bloomberg Television, AOL, Huffington Post, Bloomberg Radio, The Wrap, Slash Film, and the Hollywood Reporter. Growing up in the Bronx, Clayton’s avid interest in the movie world began the moment he first watched "Dead Poets Society” at just five years of age. While he struggled in English class all throughout grade school, he dived head first into writing, ultimately taking those insufficiencies and transforming them into ardent writings pertaining to all things film, television, and most importantly, the Academy Awards. In addition to crafting a collection of short stories that give a voice to films that haven’t made it to the silver screen, Clayton currently serves as the Founding Editor of AwardsCircuit.com. He also holds active voting membership at various esteemed organizations, such as the Broadcast Film Critics Association, Broadcast Television Journalists Association, African-American Film Critics Association, New York Film Critics Online, Black Reel Awards, and International Press Academy. Furthermore, Clayton obtained his B.A. degree in American Studies and Communications.