Opening 22 Dec 2016
Susan (Adams) celebrates the opening of her art gallery, which features naked women with tons of fat bouncing on their swaying bodies. She is disappointed that her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) did not attend, but their relationship is obviously on the rocks. Left alone in their extraordinarily huge and modern mansion, she spends the weekend reading a book called Nocturnal Animals, written by her first and former husband Edward (Gyllenhaal). Now begins the tight tension. The story’s plot comes alive as we “read” along with Susan. Here, Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) is driving down a West Texan highway in the middle of the night with wife Laura (Fischer) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber). A trio of scruffy guys, Ray (Taylor-Johnson), Lou, and Turk, force them off the road and tragedy begins. Edward manages to walk to the nearest sheriff’s office, where inspector Bobby Andes (Shannon) takes up the search for Edward’s lost family.
The film is extraordinary for several reasons. It keeps your attention completely as it goes back and forth between Susan and Edward (as represented by his fictional character Tony), whom Susan hasn’t seen for 20 years, since they were students. How to sort out what is true and what is fiction: Edward never remarried, so has no family like his counterpart in the book. Some scenes of violence depend on your imagination, which is often worse than reality. The screen is dedicated to close-ups for more than half the duration of the two-hour film, and the make-up and photography teams have done extraordinary jobs to “age” Susan and Edward by 20 years and back again. The actors are excellent, even in smaller roles such as Michael Shannon as the Texas cop and Laura Linney who plays Susan’s mother Anne. Amy Adams gives us her second top film in 2016, after appearing in Arrival. Values and goals in life are discussed; Susan begins to understand herself.
After viewing, one could discuss the topics of “revenge” and “weakness” with like-minded cinema fans for another two hours. I will see the film a second time to pick up on the small clues and I will read the 1993 book Tony & Susan by Austin Wright, which provided Ford with his story. This is a tense, thought-provoking film, and the drive down a dark, isolated West Texan highway is nothing compared to the lonely reflection of one’s own life. (Becky Tan)