By Ryan Keating-Lambert

★★★★☆

Tom Ford (A Single Man) raises his game with the stylish and alluring revenge thriller Nocturnal Animals. Sharp characters played by even sharper actors in a wonderfully absurd world where L.A. chic meet the dust of West Texas.

Based on the novel ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals is the story of successful L.A. gallery owner Susan, who starts to read a manuscript, also called ‘Nocturnal Animals’, by her writer ex-husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book is dedicated to Susan and she becomes consumed in the violent revenge thriller about a young family (husband Edward also played by Gyllenhaal) terrorised on a West Texas motorway by a gang of roughians led by Ray, brilliantly played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. After Edward’s wife and daughter are taken, he seeks out revenge with the stetson wearing detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon).

I found it really hard to rate this film, because I feel as though I was a little betrayed from the trailer. The tension and mood made me as giddy as a school boy in the trailer, and even the gorgeously grotesque opening credits of the film suggested that there’d be a Lynchian twist and some tension to the whole narrative, but it didn’t really happen. Not every movie can be Mullholland Drive or Lost Highway, and I need to accept that.

It’s next to impossible not to respect and love this film in some way. The performances are just brilliant. Adams has a sadness that’s addictive to watch, Gyllenhaal’s transformation from scared father to desperate avenger is unbelievable, as is Michael Shannon as the gritty detective. However, Aaron Taylor-Johnson steps into new territory with his portrayal of villain Ray. He’s certainly come a long way from the pimply superhero wannabe in Kick-Ass. Wow, just wow. There’s also a brief scene with Laura Linney as Susan’s ultra Texan mother that’s an absolute pleasure to watch. There’ll surely be some Oscar buzz around these performances.

Ford has painted himself quite a dark and magnificent canvas here. The cinematography was breathtaking, and the effortless transitions from Texas to L.A. were brutal, yet harmonious in a way – the result of talented cinematographer Seamus McGarvy, whose presence actually drew Jake Gyllenhaal to the project. McGarvy has brought a dominant red and green colour scheme to the film which also rolls over into costume design.

Adams looks absolutely stunning, even in pyjamas. Her outfits throughout the film accentuate her mood, her metamorphosis, and her overwhelming sadness. Surprisingly though, the costumes were by Arianne Phillips, not fashion designer Ford. Almost the entire narrative is told through perfect grace and style.

Abel Korzeniowski’s soundtrack also propels things along. Those who have seen A Single Man or TV series Penny Dreadful will recognise the composer’s love of classical music as being ever present here as well.

There are a lot of these films around this lately. Artsy projects that focus on aesthetic and mood. Some of them true contributions to the world of art, and some of them not. Thank god this had more substance than The Neon Demon, an arthouse thriller that was also set in L.A. that was nothing more than a really long and violent music video.

Feature photo: The Independent

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