This much we know: Tom Ford is a master of style. The emotional sucker punch of A Single Man, the fashion designer's 2009 debut as a filmmaker, came cushioned in a gorgeous succession of stark, painstaking images that evoked the hollowed-out heart of its title character. But sumptuous cinematography and framing can get a director only so far. Also striking are the performances Ford whittles out of his actors. Colin Firth was devastating in A Single Man, and in Ford's second outing, NocturnalAnimals, that role goes to Amy Adams, who holds together the film with a delicate poise that captures vulnerability and reserve in equal measure.
As Susan Morrow, a Los Angeles art dealer whose marriage is crumbling, she's mesmerizing. So, too, is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays Ray, a Texas hick with a violent temper. The two never meet, because Ray is the character in a novel Morrow is reading, written by her abandoned first love, Edward (a terrific Jake Gyllenhaal), ostensibly as an exercise in revenge fantasy. But Ray is the stuff of nightmares, and it doesn't take much for the primal, dismal violence of his life to curdle Morrow's hyper-controlled and orderly world. A sustained scene of terror on an empty road is orchestrated with sensational verisimilitude that will have you gripping the edge of your seat. It will also leave you wondering why Ford continues to labor in the trenches of high fashion. Film is clearly his calling now, and the quicker he can get back to the studio to make another movie, the better.
Nocturnal Animals opens in select theaters November 18.
Like what you see here? Subscribe and be the first to receive the latest issue of Out. Subscribe to print here and receive a complimentary digital subscription.