Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher
When A Single Man was released in 2009, audiences stopped and took renewed notice of Tom Ford. The iconic men’s fashion director was always known for his slick style and artistic instincts, but his directorial debut proved to be more than a sumptuous visual feast.
A Single Man was visually beautiful, brimming with masterful composition and compelling colour saturation, but it also possessed a world of substance, examining concepts like grief, love, homosexuality and suicide with sensitivity and sympathy.
Nocturnal Animals is Ford’s second feature, and much like A Single Man, it manages to captivate the mind as well as the eyes and ears. Based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, it tells the story of Susan (Amy Adams), a lavishly wealthy but deeply unsatisfied art gallery owner who receives a novel manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book, bursting with rage, desperation and unbridled violence, has been dedicated to Susan.
The stark colour palettes contribute to Nocturnal Animals’ immersive atmosphere
As with A Single Man, the aesthetics of Nocturnal Animals are nothing short of beguiling. Ford’s use of colour is magnificent, with eerie reds and blacks bleeding through the book’s most bloody scenes, while the subdued Susan is often cast in cool, muted blues and greys.
The stark colour palettes contribute to Nocturnal Animals’ immersive atmosphere, as does Ford’s positioning of figures in relation to one another — in earlier scenes, the reticent book character Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal) is often positioned below or distant from other figures.
The mood of tension and devastation is further ratcheted up by Abel Korzeniowski’s contemplative, mournful score. Korzeniowski returns from A Single Man, and has evidently retained his expertise in creating sweeping, sonorous string compositions.
The script is crafted well, juxtaposing particular events and developments to unearth telling comparisons
Nocturnal Animals is not content to drift by solely on its stylistic prowess, however. Wright’s novel scrutinises the mechanisms of anguish and revenge, concepts which Ford hones in on with a penetrating focus. The script is crafted well, juxtaposing particular events and developments to unearth telling comparisons.
Susan’s life is surrounded by luxury and convenience, but her unhappiness is evident from her frosty conversations with her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer), and the eagerness with which she contemplates a reconnection with Edward.
Edward’s novel tells an ostensibly straightforward narrative tale of violence, murder and vengeance, but as the film unfolds the parallels between the manuscript and Susan’s actual relationship with Edward become more and more apparent.
Unfortunately, other talented actors are given too little to do
The incredibly talented cast helps to add nuance and gravity to the script’s symbolism. As ever, Adams is fantastic, conveying the depth of Susan’s inner conflicts in as much as a furrowed brow or distracted gaze. Gyllenhaal is equally strong as both Edward and Tony, making each man possess distinct mannerisms and composures whilst sharing several similarities. Wonderful work is seen from Michael Shannon as a determined detective and Aaron Taylor-Johnson as an intimidating aggressor, as they perfectly exhibit the motivations and convictions of two starkly different men.
There are also great performances in smaller roles, including Isla Fisher as Tony’s wife Laura, and Laura Linney as Susan’s mother Anne. Each is given very little screen time, but make a lasting impact with their empathetic, realistic performances.
Unfortunately, other talented actors are given too little to do: Hammer and Michael Sheen both do their best in short, restricted, painfully one-dimensional roles. Hutton is especially mundane in the trope of a typically selfish, deceptive husband.
An intelligent script is brought to life through wonderful, entrancing direction
Though Nocturnal Animals is about Susan and Edward, the script could have lent more credence to Hutton’s existence rather than rendering him a pure stereotype, especially as so much of Susan’s life is linked to him.
Another stumbling block in Nocturnal Animals’ potential impact is the somewhat slow pacing in some parts of the film. Often the book’s narrative is focused on for too long, with few or no cuts back to Susan, meaning the audience is given little time for the book’s major developments to sink in. The film cuts away from a key development or chilling tableaux in the book’s plot, only to return to it mere moments later, allowing for no appreciation or reflection.
Nevertheless, with Nocturnal Animals, Ford has cemented his reputation as an extraordinary filmmaker. An intelligent script is brought to life through wonderful, entrancing direction, compelling sights and sounds, and a talented cast. Though by no means perfect, Nocturnal Animals is a truly captivating feature, telling a tale of anger and regret in a way that is piercingly relatable.