Director: Tom Ford.
Screenplay: Tom Ford.
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Karl Glusman, Robert Aramayo, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Jena Malone, Graham Beckel.
“Enjoy the absurdity of our world. It’s a lot less painful. Believe me, our world is a lot less painful than the real world”
Former fashion-designer Tom Ford took his first steps into film directing with A Single Man in 2009. It’s a film that didn’t initially catch my eye but when I finally caught up with it, it really impressed. In fact, I thought it a near masterpiece of style and composition. As a result, I’ve been very eager to see what Ford would do next and although his follow-up isn’t quite as good as his debut, there’s still much to recommend.
Plot: Wealthy art curator Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). As she settles into reading Edward’s story, she is forced to confront her past and the breakdown of their relationship as the story within the manuscript turns violent and deadly.
Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, there’s a clever structure to Nocturnal Animals. It’s a story-within-a-story and not being content with that, it also employs flashbacks just to make it more narratively complex and frames it’s all as three stories in one. The stories aren’t vignettes or separate, though. They are very much related and feed into each other as the film addresses the differences between past and present and the fine line between reality and fantasy with one fictional story even serving as a metaphor for another. It’s quite an ambitious project for Ford in only his second film but he’s able to keep command of all the narratives and manages to combine a reflective drama with a mysterious, psychological thriller while bringing it all together to make a complete and coherent whole.
It’s not just Ford’s narrative juggling that impresses, though. There’s plenty to admire throughout the entire film; Ford’s direction is ambitious and, like his work in A Single Man, he has a keen artistic eye with some vibrant and striking imagery captured by Christopher Brown’s art direction, Seamus McGarvey’s sombre cinematography and the gorgeous production design by Shane Valentino and Meg Everist invites you into the characters’ dark, dual existences without ever losing its consistent tone. It also boasts a very impressive cast who are all on good form; after her anchoring work in Arrival, the always reliable Amy Adams delivers another strong, reserved performance; the Oscar nominated Michael Shannon manages to convey so much with the minutest facial expression and Golden Globe winning Aaron Taylor-Johnson tackles a darker role, that he’s not normally associated with. Put simply, he knocks it out the park and I hope that Johnson continues to explore more of his range in the future.
Like the performances themselves, there are so many layers to Nocturnal Animals that it stays with you long after the credits have rolled. It’s had its critics with many claiming style over substance as a major issue. Personally, I disagree, and happen to think it has an abundance of both. It’s a very well crafted film that’s awash with symbolism and has you continually questioning it’s meanings and messages.
A complex and elegant love story that successfully interweaves with a sadistic film-noir. Tom Ford has shown that A Single Man was no fluke. This a director with sophistication and one that delivers material that’s as dense as it is captivating.
Trivia: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal have been cast in another project called ‘Ezekiel Moss’ which would have been directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, the project was scrapped after Hoffman’s death in 2014