Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Directed by: Tom Ford
Tom Ford threatens thrice on second outing as producer, writer and director.
From the outset of Tom Ford’s second directorial effort, Nocturnal Animals, we are unsettled. The unconventional opening credits set the tone for a piece which contemplates with cold detachment the more grotesque side of humanity. In one corner, we have Susan (Amy Adams), an art director with an obvious proclivity for the macabre; in the other, we have Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), Susan’s long-estranged former husband whom she has dealt some significant wrongs. It is via these two protagonists we navigate the murky and multi-stranded narrative.
Although I haven’t seen A Single Man, I suspect it wasn’t as dark as this. On casting, I have never been able to get overly enthused about Amy Adams despite her attachment to a fairly respectable run of films. Jake Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, is someone I have become very interested in ever since his sterling involvement in grittier and darker productions such as his two collaborations (Prisoners and Enemy) with director of the moment, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario and Arrival), followed by the seedy milieu he explored playing an ambulance-chaser in 2014’s Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal again displays his superb acting chops with the meatiest material to chew in Nocturnal Animals.
Edward has recently re-initiated contact with Susan, completely unannounced, in the form of a proof of his novel which he hopes Susan will read. Edward’s writing unnerves Susan on various levels and subsequent visualisations of her reading of the text provide the film’s most nefarious strand. Herein, Aaron Taylor Johnson turns in a terrifically despicable performance, channelling a Kalifornia-era Brad Pitt. Michael Shannon, a consistently solid performer, delivers an appropriately brooding incarnation of a West-Texan lawman. Simple but sufficient cameos from Michael Sheen, Armie Hammer and Isla Fisher appear otherwise.
Early on, an extended sequence in the desert from the story within the story stands out as one of the better pieces of film I have seen in a while. The lack of soundtrack and use of silence to reinforce the starkness and helplessness of both situation and location are exquisite. The tension is excruciating, perfectly reflecting the complexity and intractability of the events which unfold. The extended length of the particular scene is brave, refreshing and incredibly effective. Visually, the approach pays off with stunning reward. As fashion label head honcho and director of the film, Tom Ford’s eye for the aesthetic reaps dividends. The film’s score is lush and dark – a nod to Susan’s lavish yet broken surrounds – and the attack/restraint of the music throughout is fantastic.
Nocturnal Animals manages to engross and really thrives on its ambiguity, providing a mystery that is gripping, chilling and thought-provoking until its climax which, similar to its opening, is both interesting and unsettling. As Michael Sheen’s character implores Susan early on in the film: “Enjoy the absurdity of our world – it’s much more enjoyable than the real world.”
In Tom Ford’s latest offering, you will need to make up your own mind about which and what of these worlds is actually real.
4 out of 5 night-lights for Nocturnal Animals.
Available on DVD/Blu-Ray from JB Hi-Fi.
Further viewing: A Single Man
See Also: Nightcrawler, Gone Girl, Zodiac, The Gift (2015)