Alex Casey is a staff writer for New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Movie review: Nocturnal Animals

Keeping up with film releases can sometimes feel like the entertainment selection on a long-haul flight. Every movie starts to blur together, each one more nondescript than the last. Something something in space. Something about a mother trying to have it all. You fall asleep for a bit. Something with Kevin James and a talking squirrel.

But then a film like Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals creeps up and shakes you wide awake.

Fashion designer turned director Tom Ford - whose 2010 debut feature A Single Man was met with a deluge of award nominations and critical accolades - is clearly a perfectionist of the highest order.

Starring a stellar cast, including Amy Adams (The Master), Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) and Michael Shannon (Midnight Special), Nocturnal Animals is part psychological drama, part thriller and part magazine shoot come to life.

It's also unlike anything else I have seen at the cinema this year.

Based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, the film navigates two main stories in different worlds, both artfully envisioned through distinctive sound design, colours and textures.

One follows Susan (Amy Adams), a grave and glassy-eyed art gallery owner who receives a manuscript of her ex-husband Edward's (Jake Gyllenhaal) first novel in the mail. Escaping her exceptionally glossy but deeply unhappy life, she paws through the novel - all the while reminiscing about their young, failed relationship.

Creating a film within the film, the horrific, blood-red events of Edward's novel play out against the clinical cool of Susan's world as she reads. Jake Gyllenhaal explodes here in his second role as Tony, a father facing an unthinkable nightmare of violence, loss and revenge.

Without giving it away, an incident that begins on an open highway in the middle of the night evokes the same everyday terror as Michael Haneke's Funny Games.

Ford demonstrates mastery over tension and pace, only releasing the audience from his vice-like grip when we return to Susan in the "real" world, outside the book.

Nocturnal Animals also contains further evidence Amy Adams is one of the most magnetic actors of the decade. "What right do I have to be unhappy? I have everything." She asks through saucer eyes, undoubtedly a feeling expressed by many in Ford's own opulent Gucci-monogrammed world.

I would have liked just a fraction more time with her story, which is dwarfed under the ultra-violence of the secondary plot.

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a devastatingly raw performance as the novel's Tony, accompanied by a suitably grizzled sheriff played by Michael Shannon.

The supporting cast is terrific, from a bone-chilling Aaron Johnson (Kick Ass) as a lawless stranger to a Stepford Wives-esque Laura Linney as Susan's high-society mother. Look out for all the leads when the Oscar nominations roll around.

On top of the devastating, deftly told stories, Nocturnal Animals is so beautiful that it makes me want to run out and buy a pair of Tom Ford sunglasses just so I can feel his artistry in real life.

From the astonishing Cindy Sherman-style opening sequence to the pulsing highways of True Detective, the well of inspiration for the film seems endless.

Knitting the visual tapestry together is a stirring score by Abel Korzeniowski, pairing swells and screeches to create the heartbeat of the film.

Nocturnal Animals traverses lithely across various fields of the human experience, from loneliness to revenge, trauma, to an increasingly disposable society.

If you can look beyond the glossy veneer, you'll discover something much uglier than a nice pair of sunnies and a pearl necklace.

In fact, you might just find something absolutely phenomenal.

Rated R16
Showing now

- Spy.co.nz

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