Tom Ford is quickly cementing himself as one of my favorite film directors, a man with such an impressive, original eye for visual beauty that it’s almost unfair to others who work in the medium. His gorgeous direction is filled with unparalleled finesse and ingenuity, making his films true works of art; it’s amazing how a clothing designer can so flawlessly shift from the world of fashion to the world of film. Ford is a true visual artist with not only an impeccable eye for stunning moving portraits, but he’s a talented screenwriter as well.
Ford effortlessly and skillfully balances two very strenuous narratives within one lurid, complex tale. The film, based on the Austin Wright novel “Tony and Susan,” tells the story of divorced couple Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner, and Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a writer. When Edward sends Susan a copy of his latest manuscript (the novel titled “Nocturnal Animals”), she begins to discover a somber truth about herself, her previous relationship with Edward, and the torment from consequences that fester after a decade of resentment and regret.
Ford seamlessly weaves three different timelines for his characters: the early years of their relationship, present day disappointment, and the fictional story within the story. The constantly shifting timeline is sure to leave many viewers confused, as this is a smart film that’s made for moviegoers who pay close attention and relish every seemingly insignificant detail on display. Fans of Refyn and Lynch will love this film.
The most dark, suspenseful tale is the actual plot of the novel: a man named Tony (Gyllenhaal) is traveling on a deserted road with his wife and daughter (Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber) when a group of hillbilly punks and their alpha trash leader Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) run them off the road. Something painfully tragic occurs, and Tony enlists the help of morally ambiguous West Texas detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to track down his family.
Shannon is absolutely magnificent in this role; he’s unusually subdued, dynamically forceful, and incredibly powerful. In fact, every single performance from the ensemble cast is a true standout, from Adams’ hauntingly cold artist to Gyllenhaal’s dual role as a weak charmer as well as a desperate, grieving family man.
The cinematography (by Seamus McGarvey) is provocative and visually dazzling, filled with textural images that you’ll want to reach out and touch. This is a dark, haunting and insanely gorgeous film. The remarkable original score by composer Abel Korzeniowski is appropriately macabre and angry yet elegant, a fitting complement to this very grim mystery.
“Nocturnal Animals” is a stylish revenge thriller that’s violent and shocking, but it’s not pointless or careless with its characters or subject matter. This is an intensely distressing and disturbing tale of brutality that blurs the line between reality and fiction.
The constant shift in tone, story and timelines can be a bit messy at times, but it’s also what makes this film so compelling. It’s a striking, bleak exploration of the human condition and the ways we find to cope with our massive failures in life and love, as well as our role as a protector of what’s important in both.
I appreciated Nocturnal Animals, particularly the Hell or High Water meets Prisoners-esque movie within a movie, but at the end of the day I kept coming back to how for all of the stylistic flourishes Ford lays on top of everything this is ultimately just a story about a wealthy art maven in the midst of an existential crisis reading a book which may or may not be a thinly veiled fuck you letter from her ex. I know, as you stated in your review, this is based on the novel “Tony and Susan,” but I would have otherwise assumed it was simply inspired by something that happened to someone Tom Ford personally knows through his primary life in fashion. That somehow kept me from truly emotionally engaging with the film as a whole, regarding it more as an intriguing stylistic and formal storytelling exercise than anything else.
Because I am as equally interested with the business of Hollywood as the art, I spent a fair amount of my time watching Nocturnal Animals simply wondering, “Who is this movie for?” Not that there’s anything wrong with this, but it seems tailored exclusively to film nerds like us and the upper crust types Ford probably hobnobs with. In a post-Trump election world, there’s been so much discussion about whether or not Hollywood is out of touch with the majority of America, and here is Tom Ford making a movie about wealthy people second guessing their life choices and escaping into thriller fiction about outlaws and lawmen and a grieving, emasculated husband. Anyone of any walk of life can watch and appreciate the film, but who has it been specifically made for and targeted toward?
Now I am just rambling, and probably coming way too close to suggesting films like this shouldn’t be made. I dig that Tom Ford can experiment like this, and dress Amy Adams up like his own personal Barbie. I just wonder if a reactionary Hollywood will start second guessing films like this a bit more during the production process and at film festivals, if the phrase “how will this play in Trump’s America?’ will become a thing.
Again, me rambling.
Your review is fantastic, though. You absolutely did a better job of describing the complicated plot than I did, and perfectly explained how the film’s exploration of the human condition connected with you. Shameless plug for my own review: http://wp.me/p39B8E-7st
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Interesting points (thanks for the discussion)! I think this movie was made for art and fashion lovers (which I am). After I watched it I thought it would make an awesome double feature with “The Neon Demon” (which I also really loved the look of). I almost rated this movie higher because I really loved it. It is JUST. SO. GORGEOUS.
Oh, it is absolutely gorgeous. I am not even really a fashion person, but even I could recognize how gorgeous this movie was. Agreed about it making for a great double billing with Neon Demon.
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P.S. I also think people who supported “Trump’s America” wouldn’t touch this film with a ten foot pole. They will be too busy lapping up “Why Him?” or the latest Madea movie.
Oh, for sure. This movie has nothing for Trump’s America. They’d be out of there after the opening with the dancing overweight women.
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I agree with Kelly that Nocturnal Animals was upstaged by its story within the story, which was uncompromising and brutal. I actually didn’t find the main story very compelling, and it was difficult to ascertain what exactly Edward was trying to say to Susan through his book. Was it simply a big f**k you or was it a veiled threat? The film leaves too much open for interpretation with that ending – which was far too subtle (and caused the audience to groan) – especially since we never see modern-day Edward. He was simply an object hiding in the shadows. Nothing more. The most memorable element of the film was unquestionably Michael Shannon. That was quite an electrifying performance. The second most memorable element was the opening credits. Some things just cannot ever be unseen!
On a side note, I found the film’s interpretation of Los Angeles quite odd. Having grown up there, nothing about it seemed like LA – like it was someone from New York giving his interpretation of LA. Just an observation.
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Michael Shannon was so good. SO good. Too bad his performance is being upstaged by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who was also amazing). I think his novel wasn’t a threat but just a “take a look at how you’ve changed me and how I’ve turned into the man you always wanted me to be.” That’s just my take on it. Edward / Tony were both failures as men, but only in their own eyes and / or Susan’s eyes.