About half way through the unfolding noirish tale of Nocturnal Animals, Amy Adams' art gallery owner, Susan Morrow, traverses the minimalist concrete walkways of the gallery. Rushing to her meeting, she passes a hanging black canvas with 7 white letters "REVENGE". While jumping in on this particular point may seem like a glaring exposure of Nocturnal Animals' main theme, it's both a subliminal marker for anyone losing their way, as well as a rewarding detail for any repeat viewings.
The film opens in a dream-like fugue. Morrow pulls up to a gaudy, metal gate. The headlights bounce from the brushed metal back into her eyes and she drearily raises her hand to shield her eyes, as if she is indeed stirring from her own trance. You'd be forgiven for thinking what's to come is an ethereal tale, like something David Lynch may subconsciously derail, a la Mulholland Drive. When her first husband's debut novel arrives with a note from him and dedicated to her, it still takes a while to let your guard down and accept what's presented for what it is. Susan begins to read the manuscript and as the violent tale is told in unsettling detail, Susan's reactions are stronger than that of your average reader. Is this scripted art imitating (or indeed retelling) life? Will Susan soon find herself amongst the cast of pulpy characters in the novel?
Being neither a narrative switch-and-bait nor an attempt to outwit it’s audience allows Nocturnal Animals to deftly weave the 3 plot strands hypnotically. Dream-like some of the scenes may still be, but they serve to beguile and not mislead. Ford is smart enough to entice the audience by knowing when to leave one stand and bolster it with events of another. The effect is a celluloid page turner, confident enough to not gallop to it’s conclusion and still deliver something enthralling.
Like all good books we have to get to the end, and by the time Susan reaches the end of hers and looks for an opportunity for absolution, there’s one last hand to be played. Some may find the final moments somewhat inconclusive, but it intentionally reflects the hollow and unsatisfying results of it’s main theme: Revenge.
4* - Crueler Intentions