Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon
Genre: Drama/ Thriller
Successful art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Adams) receives a manuscript copy of a new novel by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal), who she has not actually spoken to for 20 years. The book itself is a violent thriller, and as Susan reads it she is forced to examine some dark truths about her past, and in particular what happened between herself and Edward.
Back in 2009, fashion designer Tom Ford brought us his debut film as a writer and director A Single Man, which was a film of visual splendour and profound beauty, and a successful balance of both style and substance that it felt like the work of a seasoned auteur. Well, it was certainly intriguing what he was going to do next, and now we finally have it.
Nocturnal Animals is certainly an intentionally much darker work than A Single Man, but is yet again another perfect combination of style and substance, proving that Ford was not a one hit wonder. Whether these were intentional or not, there are certainly echoes of Hitchcock and Lynch throughout Nocturnal Animals is it effectively sucks the viewer in from the start and refuses to let go.
This is certainly a very hard film to describe, as it is undoubtedly one of the more unique cinematic experiences of 2016, but also one of the most unforgettable as it is not only deeply engrossing while on screen, there are so many moments and themes within the narrative that stay with the viewer for a long time after, and repeat viewings are certainly likely to yield new rewards.
The film is essentially a fictional story within a fictional story, yet the reason why Nocturnal Animals is so engrossing is that Ford and his impressive cast make the dual strands of the narrative both equally engaging in their own right as individual stories, and then what connects them and how that gradually develops throughout the film’s overall narrative is also deeply engrossing and intriguing. This is a film with a narrative of puzzle pieces, but by the end they all fit perfectly together, very much providing a satisfying and rewarding viewing experience. It should not be underestimated just how much of an achievement this is by Tom Ford, as many directors try this and fail miserably.
The actual narrative premise behind Nocturnal Animals is very simple, and once the film reaches it very satisfying conclusion, this simplicity is obvious to the viewer. However, the simplest ideas can be the most effective, and how Ford depicts the very simple idea and concept that drives the film’s entire dual narrative is what lies at the heart of its brilliance. This idea is also one that all viewers can certainly relate to and understand, even if its presentation is a little extreme, but the fact we can relate to it is the key, and Tom Ford never loses focus when it comes to that fact.
It is not all moody and serious either; Tom Ford is certainly not afraid to have some fun both in terms of the dialogue and the visuals; there are some very funny lines, and though some scenes are admittedly slightly irrelevant to the overall plot, they provide extra insights to key characters and prove that Ford can also do comedy with aplomb.
En-route to its conclusion the film also encompasses not only two very effectively told stories in their own right, but many other intriguing themes and ideas along the way. These themes are presented very effectively and just contribute to producing a film and viewing experience of the utmost depth in every aspect. There is certainly a nastiness the film is happy to embrace, or at least explore, but the actual genuine substance at the heart if the narrative means that this nastiness is actually one we can all relate to, and is definitely an effective element of the overall narrative.
The aesthetics of the film are stunning; every shot and its placement and pallet are obviously intentional creating some luscious visuals, while Seamus McGarvey’s stunning cinematography captures perfectly the unique atmosphere of the various settings of the two narratives, as well the striking colours of the character’s eyes. Another key element is Abel Korzeniowski’s beautiful score, which further enhances the sense of mystery, anguish and darkness to the overall film.
The note perfect performances are another key element as to why Nocturnal Animals works so well; Amy Adams perfectly captures her character’s paranoia and deep unhappiness with suitable understatement, it is clear in her eyes there is a great haunted sadness. Meanwhile Jake Gyllenhall, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are all exceptional in their pivotal roles. There are also a fair few fleeting cameos from famous faces, particularly memorable are Michael Sheen and Laura Linney.
As the dual narratives develop every scene feels fully justified and it leads to an overall narrative conclusion that feels both in tune with what has preceded it and feels like a very satisfying conclusion that encompasses the overall theme of the two dual narratives. I have recently reviewed films by Terence Malick and Nicolas Winding Refn and criticised them for having some style, but lacking any kind of substance, well in only his second film Tom Ford has successfully given us both.
A deeply engaging and unforgettable film that proves you can have both style and substance; Nocturnal Animals is a film with a rich and intoxicating atmosphere that grips the viewer from start to finish, and crucially provides a very satisfying and unforgettable conclusion. Tom Ford must make more films!