Amy Adams Scores Again in “Nocturnal Animals”
(With Strong Assist from Jake Gyllenhaal)
By Skip Sheffield
Amy Adams has really been on a roll recently. After playing a brainy linguist who saves the world in “Arrival,” she now shows her glamour side as a successful avant garde art gallery owner in “Nocturnal Animals.”
Avant garde fashion designer Tom Ford adapted the screenplay from the novel “Tony and Susan,” by Austin Wright and directed with arty flair. "Nocturnal Animals” is both a thriller and a very twisted love story. It could also be seen as a satire of high-end modern art and the upper-crust social world.
This is apparent from the first few frames, as we see a grossly obese naked women dancing and writhing about. We see the women again on display as part of an opening show at the high-end Los Angeles art gallery owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). The naked fat women may seem gross and revolting, but people are fawning over the “art,” calling it brilliant and congratulating Susan for curating it.
In reality Susan has come to hate what she does. She lives in a huge glass mansion overlooking L.A., but it is lonely and sterile. Her handsome second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) has made some bad business deals and squandered most of the couple’s wealth. He snubs Susan’s request for a beach getaway because he has a “business trip” to New York. We see him there with another woman.
A package arrives for Susan. It is a manuscript proof for a novel written by her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Susan has not seen Edward in 19 years. She dumped him because he was “too weak” and not ambitious enough. The novel, titled “Nocturnal Animals,” is dedicated to Susan. It is a violent, horrific story set in the badlands of West Texas. Tony Hastings, also played by Jake Gyllenhaal, and his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter India (Ellie Barber) are traveling to Tony’s family home in his vintage Mercedes-Benz. In the middle of nowhere they are menaced by two cars full of rednecks. Their car is damaged, forced off the road, and then it really gets bad.
The story flashes back and forth between Tony in Texas and Susan in L.A. There are also flashbacks to Susan and Edward’s initial romance and breakup. Susan had discouraged Edward from being a writer. The novel can be seen as his ultimate revenge.
The movie is meticulously cast, with Michael Shannon riveting as a cancerous Texas detective who tries to help Tony bring to justice the three creeps who raped and killed his wife and daughter. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is creepy-scary as the main thug. Providing comic relief is Michael Sheen as Carlos, a gay trophy husband to a glittery socialite (Andrea Riseborough). Laura Linney is chilling as Susan’s icy mom.
“Nocturnal Animals” is certainly not for everyone. The violence is sickening, and so is the modern art. The visuals by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey are spellbinding. So is Amy Adams, coming to the realization of the horrible life mistakes she has made. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers the most powerful performance of his career in the dual role of Edward/Tony. One thing for sure, “Nocturnal Animals” is never boring- if you can take it.