Director: Tom Ford
Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal
3 (out of 5) Globes
Obese, naked women, rocking American decals and firecrackers, dancing on separate stands in front of a moneyed audience. This is how Tom Ford chooses to open “Nocturnal Animals.” Is it a dig at the U.S.? At the silliness of art? And what does it have to do with the other insanities to come? These include: a woman contacted by a longtime ex, a quest for bloody vengeance, naked, defiled bodies, a very serious Jake Gyllenhaal performance, a very silly Michael Shannon one. The fashion god-turned-filmmaker’s follow-up to “A Single Man” is a gumbo of ingredients that seem to have nothing to do with each other, not even the film has ended. But it’s told with such confidence, such precision, that even if it doesn’t appear to all tie up, it seems like it should.
And maybe it does. Adapted from Austin Wright’s “Tony and Susan,” it’s a story about someone reading a story, with a third story peppered in as flashbacks. In the main, there’s Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a glamorous gallery owner with a philandering husband (Armie Hammer). One day she receives a mysterious package: It’s the new novel by the ex-husband, Edward (Gyllenhaal), she hasn’t seen in two decades. She opens it and we’re plunged into the tale within — a grisly revenge grinder about a man (Gyllenhaal again) whose wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are raped and murdered by West Texas ne’er-do-wells (led by a showboating Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Luckily (if you will), there’s a cancer-ridden, don’t-give-an-eff detective (Shannon) gung-ho about getting our fictional hero get some Texas justice.
Susan reads on with rapt attention, occasionally leaning back orgasmically in fits of pain-meets-pleasure. What turns her on/off is left ambiguous. A note from Edward says the book is different from his previous work, suggesting he finally found his voice. It’s also dedicated to her. But his intentions are left unclear. Even with Gyllenhaal doing double duty, we don’t know if the story is semi-autobiographical. We don’t know if it’s the excellence or the intensity of the book that so grabs Susan. We don’t know what she's supposed to take away from this tale of murder, rape and vengeance down south.