An elegant yet vicious neo-noir from Tom Ford, an influential fashion designer who, every few years, takes some time off to write and direct a really interesting movie. Nocturnal Animals, only his second work as a director, stars Amy Adams as an alienated art gallery owner who is sent the manuscript to her ex-husband’s new novel, a disturbing story of kidnapping, murder, and revenge, conveyed to us as a movie within the movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal. As she reads it, and is deeply moved by it, she begins to revisit her memories of their failed marriage, and starts to reexamine the currently failing marriage in which she is now trapped. This brutal, beautiful film left me a little uncertain as to how I should feel at it’s conclusion. It’s leaves things open and ambiguous. It explores many troubling themes of violence, masculinity, and primal emotion, but it doesn’t seem to have any clear ‘message’ or 'point’ it’s trying to convey. And I discovered that I’m just fine with that. Some films exist simply as visual/tonal pieces, 'exercises-in-style’ as they’re often dismissively referred to, and they’re no less impressive for it. Ford proves himself a master of tone. He handles the unconventional dual narratives expertly, linking them through striking parallel imagery, and does an especially brilliant job of drawing out moments of tension and confrontation, sometimes to downright absurd lengths. In particular, the scene where the kidnapping takes place, in the movie within the movie, is excruciatingly sustained, and toys with the audience just as sadistically as the kidnappers toy with their victims, in a good way. The biggest reason to watch the movie, though? The cast. Nocturnal Animals probably has more great acting per square inch than any other film released last year. From the melancholy of Adams, to the rawness of Gyllenhaal, to the unhinged menace of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, everyone is at the top of their game. And it’s amazing to me that, even with an ensemble this good, Michael Shannon still manages to stand out. He delivers some of his best work as a quietly intense police detective that finds his particular brand of justice more than a little constrained by the actual law. It’s an incredible film that stays with you long after it’s over and one that I’m already eager to watch a second time. Not currently available to stream but available to rent or purchase on the VOD platform of your choice.