Noc­tur­nal An­i­mals

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - A Sin­gle Man) Tony and Su­san Noc­tur­nal An­i­mals

Tom Ford’s sopho­more fea­ture (his first was 2009’s has been praised and panned, and both camps have a point. But to dis­miss this el­e­gant thriller on the charge of its em­brace of the ob­vi­ous is to deny a wealth of en­gross­ing plea­sures, grip­ping ten­sions, and lay­ers of re­venge — sweet, bit­ter, and vi­o­lent.

The story, adapted by Ford from the novel by Austin Wright, un­folds in three lay­ers. The first is the present, where Su­san (Amy Adams) lives an emo­tion­ally gut­ted life in a gilded world. She’s got the beau­ti­ful house in the hills of Los An­ge­les; the hand­some bro­ker hus­band, Walker (Ar­mie Ham­mer); the up­scale art gallery — and she’s got Ford, the for­mer sage of Gucci, to de­sign the pieces, mak­ing each el­e­ment im­pos­si­bly per­fect and per­fectly im­pos­si­ble. “What right do I have to not be happy?” she asks. “I have ev­ery­thing.” But Su­san is not happy. The house is too ex­quis­ite to live in. The gallery is a repos­i­tory for her long-dis­carded artis­tic am­bi­tions. Walker is too soigné to be a real hus­band, their chem­istry is zero, and we soon find out he’s phi­lan­der­ing.

A pack­age ar­rives. It’s the man­u­script of a novel from her ex-hus­band Ed­ward ( Jake Gyl­len­haal), and be­fore she’s even got it open, it has drawn blood — she gets a pa­per cut from the wrap­ping. With Walker away, Su­san set­tles in to read, of­ten in the bath­tub. The novel — ti­tled

(some­thing Ed­ward dubbed her for her in­som­nia) — is ded­i­cated to her. And it’s a gut-wrench­ing night­mare of a story about a fam­ily’s trou­bles on a West Texas high­way in the mid­dle of a ter­ri­ble night. She has no prob­lem imag­in­ing Ed­ward as the novel’s pro­tag­o­nist, Tony, and her­self as the wife, Laura (played with an un­canny re­sem­blance to Adams by Isla Fisher). Delv­ing into the novel’s vi­cious events, Su­san be­gins to read a com­men­tary on their mar­riage and its wrench­ing breakup.

The movie’s third layer takes us back to when Ed­ward and Su­san were young and in love. She was an as­pir­ing artist. He had dreams of be­com­ing a nov­el­ist. But as she con­fesses to a friend, “I didn’t have enough faith in him.” Her mother — played as a coiffed, pearl-draped ma­tron by Laura Lin­ney in an in­ci­sive cameo — warns her that Ed­ward doesn’t have the am­bi­tion and drive to match her ex­pec­ta­tions. And when Su­san glares with con­tempt, she adds, “Just wait, dear. We all turn into our mothers.”

Back to the book, which is the meat and sinew of this movie. A bit of time has passed since that night of un­re­lieved ten­sion and hor­ror. En­ter De­tec­tive Bobby An­des (a su­perb Michael Shan­non), with his cow­boy hat and his smoker’s rasp, and the endgame of re­venge is on.

De­spite his oc­ca­sional fond­ness for hit­ting the nail on the head, Ford has con­structed a com­plex, stylish, en­gross­ing movie and has as­sem­bled a cast that de­liv­ers su­perbly, from cameos (Michael Sheen) to rel­a­tive un­knowns (Aaron Tay­lor-John­son as the bad­dest of the bad guys) to the ter­rific trio of Adams, Gyl­len­haal, and Shan­non that tops the bill.

— Jonathan Richards

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