Nocturnal Animals

Tom FordUSA / United Kingdom116 minutes201614AColourEnglish

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Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Armie Hammer headline the second feature from director Tom Ford (A Single Man), about a woman who is forced to confront the demons of her past as she is drawn into the world of a thriller novel written by her ex-husband.

Tom Ford has turned to Austin Wright's novel Tony and Susan as the source for his second feature, a brilliantly assembled, unsettling work that signals a major step forward for the fashion designer/film director after his well-received debut, A Single Man (TIFF 09). If skeptics wondered about Ford's commitment to cinema, Nocturnal Animals will lay all such doubts to rest. The film is stylish and gorgeous to look at — as sleek as a panther — but it's far more than an exercise in aesthetics as it turns its gaze on the complex inner life of a middle-aged woman whose world is about to be turned upside down.

Susan (Amy Adams, also appearing at the Festival in Arrival) is a successful Los Angeles art-gallery owner who wants for very little, yet she finds her paradise troubled by the frequent absences of her second husband (Armie Hammer, also at the Festival in The Birth of a Nation and Free Fire), a handsome young doctor, due to his incessant travelling. Susan is rattled further when a manuscript arrives on her desk, written by her long-estranged first husband, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Alone, with her current husband away in New York, Susan opens the manuscript and is propelled into the fictional life of a teacher (also Gyllenhaal) whose drive to his summer house with his family is about to turn into a nightmare. As Susan gets deeper into the book, she is forced to examine her own past. Oscillating effortlessly between Susan's reality and the story within a story, Ford slowly and meticulously turns the screws, delving into suspense while keeping a firm hand on the disturbing drama.

Nocturnal Animals is both an effective thriller and a psychological study of a woman in crisis. Ably supported by his superb cast, Ford never puts a foot wrong as he deftly navigates these two sides; his crisp direction is totally suited to the material. The result is a sheer delight from beginning to end.

PIERS HANDLING

Literary InterestDramaMystery + Thriller