NOCTURNAL ANIMALS — Review by Susan Granger

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From fashion designer-turned-writer/director Tom Ford comes a bizarre marital thriller, as a divorced couple discover dark truths about their tortured relationship. The opening credit sequences is one of the weirdest I’ve ever seen: grotesquely obese, naked, middle-aged women writhe in billowing glitter as part of an installation at an elite Los Angeles art gallery opening, curated by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). Afterwards, Susan’s emotionally distant husband, WASP financier Hutton (Armie Hammer), jets off to New York for an adulterous liaison – under the pretext of saving his failing business. Read on…

So Susan curls up on a couch in their luxurious, modernist mansion in the Hollywood hills to read the manuscript of a new book, titled Nocturnal Animals, sent by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), who dedicates it to her since she’s a chronic insomniac.

The fictitious noir melodrama revolves around Tony Hastings (now-bearded Gyllenhaal) who, driving his Mercedes from Dallas to Marfa, takes a wrong turn and is ambushed on a deserted highway by three amped-up yokels who kidnap his wife (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter (Ellie Bamber).

Working with a West Texas lawman, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), Tony reconstructs the terrifying violence and grim brutality that took place late that night.

Obviously an allegorical commentary on Edward’s marriage to Susan and how she jilted him, the nihilistic novel causes her to reflect on and re-evaluate both her past and present relationships.

Adapting Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, Tom Ford (A Single Man) has assembled a stellar cast, including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as the rednecks’ creepy ringleader, and Laura Linney, as Susan’s icy socialite mother – and his intuitive social commentary is slyly cynical.

Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough score an amusing cameo on the shallow privileged, noting: “Our world is a lot less painful than the real world.”

Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey delivers intoxicating, eye-catching imagery, immeasurably aided by production designer Shane Valentino and costume designer Arianne Phillips.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Nocturnal Animals is a sleek, sophisticated 7, focusing on surreal passion and suspenseful revenge.

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