Arts Review, Movies
Tom Ford, director and script based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin M. Wright
Starring: Amy Adams (Susan Morrow), Jake Gyllenhaal (Edward Sheffield/Tony Hastings), Michael Shannon (Detective Bobby Andes), Armie Hammer (Hutton Morrow), Isla Fisher (Laura Hastings), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ray Marcus), Laura Linney (Anne Sutton)
People who don’t sleep at night are nocturnal animals. In fiction, they’re often the subjects of nightmarish fantasies as if their unwillingness to sleep is an affront to normal society. In Tom Ford’s latest auteurist outburst Nocturnal Animals—a film replete with gorgeous creatures posturing in to-swoon-for surroundings–the woman seduced into enduring painful dreams is Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), an elegant Los Angeles art dealer suffering through a decaying second marriage.
While soulless second husband Hutton is off trying to raise money for unnamed big deals, Susan receives a poisoned chalice, a novel from her first, Edward, whom she hasn’t seen in nearly two decades. The book, also titled Nocturnal Animals and dedicated to her, is a blood and thunder tale of murder and revenge set in redneck territory in West Texas.
Watching the abuse of the urban Hastings family by cowboy Ray Marcus and his unsavoury friends feels like a replay of the recent presidential campaign with haughty Clinton supporters getting a terrifying awakening from an angry lot of Trump acolytes. But not everyone in West Texas is against the Hastings. Hard-bitten detective Bobby Andes (an inspired Michael Shannon) befriends Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal, who also plays the first husband, writer Edward) and the two eventually crack the case—and then have to decide what to do with their knowledge.
As this rather pulpy story unfolds, Susan stops reading when the tale proves too stressful—which is often–but always returns to the compelling narrative. In-between, she does gallery business, has unsettling encounters and broods about her philandering second husband.
Complexity is added to the story by the injection of yet another narrative line—the courtship, marriage and break-up of Susan’s relationship with Edward. Ford negotiates the three tales quite well, keeping the narrative balls in the air, building tension as each story approaches its denouement.
Nocturnal Animals is a character study of people who appear to be soulless. Is there someone here who deserves sympathy? In the end, the sleepless Susan Morrow may have at last been awakened but to what effect? Amy Adams, who is such a terrific actor, is stuck in a role beyond her. She’s great at conveying the inner core of characters—even tough ones like the wife in P.T. Anderson’s The Master. Here, she’s left looking impassive—and viewers of the film may feel the same way.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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