TIFF 2016: Tom Ford's Provocative Nocturnal Animals is Dark, Stylish 

click to enlarge Amy Adams stars in Nocturnal Animals - FOCUS FEATURES
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  • Amy Adams stars in Nocturnal Animals
It's a safe bet Nocturnal Animals will be one of the more provocative films of 2016 when it opens nationwide later this year. Critics' reactions to the movie following a packed-to-the-rafters screening Friday afternoon ranged from, "That was one of the most amazing films I've seen in years," to, "What the hell was that all about?"

That's what we can expect from director Tom Ford in the follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2009 debut as a writer/director with A Single Man.

While Ford—a renowned fashion designer—is a king of style, it would be foolish to say Nocturnal Animals is style over substance. Make no mistake: style, with particular attention to sets and costumes, is a signature element of the film, but it is expertly woven with the characters and story in this tightly-wound adaptation of the 1993 bestseller Tony and Susan.

The first few seconds of Nocturnal Animals was a beautiful vision: a blizzard of colored confetti against a black backdrop. In a bizarre twist, a deeply-scarred, extremely obese, fully naked woman then appeared to dance against a haunting symphonic score from composer Abel Korzeniowski. The theater was instantly filled with gasps. The burlesque continued with another obese dancer, then another and another. From the opening sequence to end credits, this film is filled with unforgettable images—violent, beautiful and unnerving.

click to enlarge Jake Gyllenhaal co-stars in Nocturnal Animals - FOCUS FEATURES
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  • Jake Gyllenhaal co-stars in Nocturnal Animals
my Adams stars as Susan, an art gallery owner with a failed marriage and otherwise empty existence. One night, while her husband is away on one of his too-frequent business trips, she receives a package from her ex, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Inside is a book, Nocturnal Animals, which he has written and dedicated to her. As Susan dives into the novel, the audience is transported into its story of a Texas couple and their teenage daughter, trapped in a bad situation that gets uglier with every turn.

It's an intense tale with strong themes of violence, revenge, cruelty and even intimacy. In another director's hands, this material could result in a disaster of epic proportions. As it is, Nocturnal Animals will probably have fans and critics of Tom Ford's work debating its merits for years to come. 

Other co-stars include Michael Sheen, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney and Isla Fisher, but the standout performance comes from Michael Shannon as a Texas sheriff who is committed to justice at any cost.

While I have little doubt Nocturnal Animals will find itself on a number of critics' Top 10 lists for 2016, this is a film that requires a discerning art-house audience. Theater goers thinking they're in store for a conventional romantic thriller will leave their seats asking, "What the hell was that all about?"

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