**** (out of five)
Tom Ford’s second feature after A Single Man (2009) is a seriously mature work, a terrifying thriller for adults that has staggering resonance in the wake of the US election results. At its heart, it is about two things: how choices we make can devastatingly affect the rest of our lives, and how violently divided the city and country dwellers of the United States are. Seeing it literally the morning after Trump got elected was surreal.
Amy Adams plays a total “cultural elite”, a Los Angeles art gallery owner married to some sort of high flying entrepreneur (Armie Hammer). She’s been divorced for nearly twenty years from a writing teacher / novelist (Jake Gyllenhaal). One day she receives his new novel, in proof form, in the mail, and it’s dedicated to her. As she reads it, we see it, and the affect it has on her, which is obviously intentional – perhaps maliciously so.
The two stories are very different in terms of content; the “real” events of the film are all about a woman facing a youngish mid-life crisis in her incredible Los Angeles mansion, while the story of the novel is a grim, indeed nightmarish, tale of a group of rednecks terrorising a young family in West Texas (also the setting of Hell or High Water, incidentally). But the tone and style of the film embraces both stories, linking and interweaving them extremely artfully to create a whole that is genuinely disturbing.
Ford is a rather incredible individual, having only two features to his credit and both of them excellent, and a massive design career to boot. The fact that Nocturnal Creatures is, at least on the surface, tremendously different to A Single Man is also creditable. There are similarities – both films deal intensely with the main character’s introspection over a very limited timeframe (and both in Los Angeles) and both are exquisitely crafted. Ford is no dilettante. His framing is distinctive, his use of music bold and exhilarating (the fantastic score is by Abel Korzeniowski, who also scored A Single Man) and the performances he gets are pitch perfect. Michael Shannon, as a cop in the “story within the story”, has never been better.
Intriguingly, this film opens in Australia the same day as Arrival, also starring Adams in the lead. There’s Oscar nomination buzz for her on that one, but I’d vote for her performance here, which carries far greater emotional depth, thanks in no small part to a far superior script (and film).