Jake Gyllenhaal has mastered the creepy guy character; probably moreso than the late great Roddy McDowall who never played a character that you trusted (except for Cornelius in "Planet of the Apes"). Much like Anthony Perkins and a few other select actors, once Jake steps into a scene, their is something about him you don't quite embrace.


He typically plays characters that are suffering or, at least, should be suffering because their is just something about him that isn't quite right. We saw that in "Brokeback Mountain" as Jack Twist and in the title role of "Donnie Darko"... creepiness. That creepiness really came to fore in his 2014 overlooked role as Louis Bloom in "Nightcrawler". But even in films which he played a somewhat heroic character such as Scott Fischer in "Everest". You fully expected him to die!


Pairing him with Michael Shannon is genius as director Tom Ford does in "Nocturnal Animals", a film that is an off-beat story-in-story that skews your perception of which world is real and which is contrived. The stories revolve around the relationship both real and illusion - between Gyllenhaal's Tony Hastings and Ed Sheffield characters and Amy Adams' Susan Morrow character.

The Susan character is an accomplished art curator who is married to her rich, hunk Hutton (Armie Hammer) and putting on a gallant fron of wealth and security when in fact they are nearly broke. Worse yet, Hutton is carrying on with other mistresses practically in front of Susan's face. As it turns out, Hutton is Susan's second husband - the one her mother wanted her to marry.


We learn this quickly when she receives a package from her very estranged first husband Edward (Gyllenhaal) who, up til now was a starving writer. The package he has sent her is a galley copy of his new book. After suffering a paper cut opening it, which probably has some symbolic message, she gets into her reading attire and dives right in. Inside the book she will meet the lead character, Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal).


Tony is traveling with his wife and daughter (played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber respectively) by car through rural Texas. They encounter some stereotypical red-neck hooligans on the backroads with one thing leading to another before the gang, led by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), offs the wife and daughter. At each terrifying turn in the story, Susan gasps, throws down the book in shock, then has to pull herself together.

Back to the book - Tony escapes, finally gets hold to a policeman where the film picks up the character responsible for vastly improving the story from so-so mundane to a must see creepfest. Michael Shannon plays officer Bobby Andes, a terminally ill, nearing retirement no-joke cop looking for one last taste of revenge.


In what may become one of the all-time talent pairings ever, Bobby and Tony set out to find these disorderly hillbillies who killed Tony's family. In doing so, he manages to change Tony's wimpish personality into one of dogged revenge; he makes Tony man-up! In the process, Shannon steals every scene he is in while Gyllenhaal, becomes creepier and creepier.


Meanwhile, back in the real world, Susan has agreed to meet up with her estranged ex-husband who just happens to be in town.


What is left to the audience is the giant question: Do the characters in the book reflect what Edward thinks about he and Susan's marriage dissolution or is it a reflection of the kind of man he has grown into. Yes this is one of those water-cooler films with friends doling out their interpretation of the story and the characters.


While she isn't bad, Adams is greatly overshadowed by Gyllenhaal and Gyllenhaal's characters only become interesting when Shannon enters the set. All the other characters disappear one-by-one.


"Nocturnal Animals" is a spellbinding trip into the minds of superficial characters who become more interesting as the film moves forward. Michael Shannon once again demonstrates why he has an Oscar in his future and Jake Gyllenhall demonstrates why he's one of the creepiest actors around.   -- GEOFF BURTON