The opening sequence is…..unique. Naked plus-sized female models dance in front of a red background, the color motif throughout, as handheld fireworks go off. As the opening credits roll by, the sequence fades into a gallery where the same women are models in an art exhibit. Tom Ford explains his use of these models as at first displaying the gluttony of America, but changed it to represent the expectations society has on what constitutes a “good life.”
Susan Marrow (Amy Adams) is the owner of the gallery. She is elegant. cold. somber. Gaudy. Often she is “overdressed” when compared to her surroundings. Her home is in a Mies Van Der Rohe style. Exposed steel frame. Glass. Steel furniture and appliances. While her gallery is sparse. Blindingly white. As she heads home after the nudist exhibit, she is given a package. A book called Nocturnal Animals, written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Story within the story engaged. Meta-fiction engaged.
The book details a lead character, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has his car pushed over to the side of the road at night by a gang, who look more like the hillbillies in Deliverance. Unlike the events of the main-plot, set in New York, the events of the book are in the planes of Texas. The gang of three is led by Ray Marcus (Golden Globe winner: Aaron Taylor- Johnson). Who is a sociopath. At one point he’s the understandable hospitable good ole boy. The next, a ruthless violent killer. They proceed to kidnap Hastings’ daughter and wife. Rape them. kill them. And leave Hastings to die in Texas brush.
The book acts as an allegory. Hastings is unable to get justice for his family through the courts. The lead detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), an intense lung cancer riddled lawman with only one year left to live, asks Hastings how far he is willing to go for revenge. Sheffield is also searching for revenge. Adams cheated on him with the dashing Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer). Sheffield, a writer, does not succeed in the ways Adams wants. He lacks care for materialism. Success. Riches. His definition of success is his wife loving his writing (The life of an English graduate). Adams, though she denies it, is driven by materialism. She wants the strong suave gentleman. As Adams’ mother states, Sheffield is weak. Weak in the way society defines strength.
Yet, it is Adams currently in the unhappy marriage. It is Adams who runs from a marriage rather than stick through it. It is Sheffield who has the resiliency to carry-on. Become a great writer. And send the biggest middle finger possible in book form.
The book and the main plot become a story of revenge, and we dive into another vigilante picture. I made the point in my Captain Fantastic review that, lately, there has been a proliferation of vigilantes. The need to operate outside the law. The need for revenge at any cost. And the loss of forgiveness.
The color red, the color of blood. Death. And retribution features heavily in the film. When taken in combination of the cold surroundings of Adams’ world. And the piano and string driven theme, an atmosphere of a driven, near fanatic need to see justice is created. As Hastings finally confronts the killers of his family. As he seethes. Prawn on the ground. Screaming tears of happiness for his chance. The emotive explosion from a film that had been restrained feels as a trigger loosened once pulled. And is reciprocated by Adams’ continual dropping of the book. A meta-gut punch if there ever was one.
Ford’s adept balance of two stories. Two allegorical hunts. Is a near masterpiece in the thriller genre. Its themes of gluttony. Wastefulness. Falsity. Weakness and the need to have souls repaired by a cathartic strangle to see the same pain done unto another, is forceful and therapeutic. Much like Hastings, sometimes we all need to cry in the middle of a Texas desert…