When a woman receives a manuscript from her ex-husband she starts to realise that the past hasn’t been laid to rest
Tom Ford is back with his second film: a dark thriller that veers between past, present and a story within a story.You may be used to associating Tom Ford with glamorous designs and catwalk shows but lest we forget, Ford directed A Single Man back in 2009 and demonstrated his flair for the big screen with a film which won numerous awards and was even Oscar nominated for it’s lead's performance. Now, seven years later the designer is once again showing he has more than one string to his bow. Based on the 1993 novel by Austin Wright with the title Tony and Susan, Ford wrote the screen play and has taken to the director's chair once more. With a career in glitz and glam it comes as no surprise that Nocturnal Animals is sleek and crisp in its execution. With Seamus McGarvey doing the cinematography and Joan Sobel handling the editing we are left with a deliciously dark tale of art, guilt and revenge. The film opens on the central character of Susan Morrow, played by Amy Adams.She owns an art gallery but it's a job she’s grown bored of and has begun feeling less than content with, despite the luxury it has brought her. Even though she has everything she could ever want it seems as though Susan is yearning for much more. It’s only when a manuscript from her ex-husband turns up that she is forced to face the demons she’s kept locked away for nearly 20 years. The manuscript is the first novel of her ex, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), and he’s dedicated it to Susan. With the house to herself Susan starts to read the novel, an accomplishment she never thought Edward would achieve having previously called into question his creative capabilities. It’s at this point that the film splits into two narratives, that of Susan and the story in the novel and later a third strand is added using flashbacks to show Susan and Edward’s blossoming early relationship.
The novel in the film is also called Nocturnal Animals, a term Edward used when referring to Susan presumably because of her inability to sleep at night. It follows Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal), his wife and adolescent daughter as they make their way through Texas, only to encounter some pretty unsavoury characters along the way. It’s this story within the film that is really dark and gritty. Ford packs tension and suspense into these nighttime scenes pulling into question the idea of masculinity and bravery.
As Susan reads the novel it becomes apparent that this isn’t just any novel plucked from thin air, it’s one that is full of raw emotion and complete devastation - themes she begins to realise run parallel to real life. The three strands of the film fit together seamlessly with the use of graphic match cuts blending these three worlds alongside each other; that’s not to say they are confusing, they are quite different. The fictional world of the novel is sun bleached against the dusty backdrop of the Texan desert while the world in which Susan is, is glossy and sanitised.
The editing and cinematography all contribute to the artistic quality of the film, which has enough substance to keep it going
Gyllenhaal is, as you would expect, great in his dual roles - especially in the role of Tony, a character that is forced to deal with the unthinkable and unimaginable. Gyllenhaal gives a strong and emotional performance that I can only imagine would be true to someone in that position. Adams is equally as good, but her role seems less demanding and appears to require less impact but, that said, her character is one that feels disenchanted with life and all its wonderful offerings. Michael Shannon plays the part of a Lieutenant in the novel and does so brilliantly, likewise Laura Linney’s role as Susan’s mother is strangely befitting and also impressive.
Nocturnal Animals is disturbing with it’s underlying threat looming over the central character Susan and it’s a film that will probably leave you thinking about it long after watching it, but one that I imagine will only get better with a second viewing. There is so much packed into the film that it’s difficult to really take it all in at once and I’m sure there are many layers within it which can be dissected and discussed at length. It’s art from the outset and everybody interprets art their own way, a notion that I feel fits this film perfectly - some will love it and some will hate it.
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