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THE MOVIE GUY: ‘Nocturnal’ one of year’s best


Nocturnal Animals

Focus Features

Directed by Tom Ford

Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Karl Glusman

Rated R

3 and a half stars

Tom Ford’s new movie, “Nocturnal Animals” is one of the most beautiful, and most disturbing movies of the year. This complex, movie-within-a-movie features a modern film noir style, superb acting, a haunting soundtrack and striking production design.

In short, it’s one of the most memorable films of the year, but given its difficult subject matter, those memories prove to be quite unsettling.

Based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, “Nocturnal Animals” tells the story of an unhappy art gallery owner (Amy Adams) who is struggling with her philandering husband (Armie Hammer) and her flailing career. She’s also dealing with unresolved feelings about her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). She left him years ago when she realized that his nascent writing career wouldn’t be enough to fulfill the dreams that she had for her life.

That decision gets called into question when she receives a manuscript from her former husband. It is his new novel and it tells the harrowing story of a family driving through an isolated stretch of Texas one night. They are forced off the road by a trio of young men. The husband (also Gyllenhaal) is forced to drive away while the bad guys have their way with his wife and daughter.

The rest of this story follows the husband as he teams up with a Texas lawman (Michael Shannon) in an increasingly desperate quest to bring the killers to justice. It becomes a tale of how guilt and vengeance can lead to personal ruin, all of which is juxtaposed against the art gallery owner’s reactions as she reads this manuscript.

It’s obviously a messy movie, story-wise, exacerbated by the casting of Isla Fisher as the wife in the ex-husband’s novel. Fisher looks so much like Adams that it’s difficult to separate the two actresses. It’s a bit confusing, but also a neat little storytelling trick that keeps the audience engaged during the film’s early moments.

Story aside, my biggest takeaway from “Nocturnal Animals” is its impressive visual design. Ford was a fashion designer before embarking on a filmmaking career, which should explain his eye for intriguing visuals. Couple that with a superb musical score by Abel Korzeniowski and you’re left with a film that sticks in your head.

The trick is to divorce the ugliness of the story from the beauty of the film’s sights and sounds.

I don’t mind this conflict, which is why “Nocturnal Animals” is on my list of top films of the year. It left a powerful impression on me that lasted for days, which is no small feat given the quantity of movies I tear through at this time of the year. That lasting affect is a sign of a filmmaker who is at the top of his game. I can’t wait to see what Tom Ford has in mind for his next cinematic endeavor.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM and KBTV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at smcbride@sbgtv.com.com.