Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals is a stylish and taunt film that feels like a well-shot nightmare that you don't exactly want to wake up from. The performances are dense, troubled and all kinds of sick, yet Ford crafts beauty out of pure ugliness.
Fashion designer Tom Ford is back in the world of film with Nocturnal Animals, his latest film to feature stylistic thrills and well-shot set pieces after having taken a slight hiatus after A Single Man. Nocturnal Animals isn’t just a beautiful-looking film though, in fact it’s rather ugly, depicting an on-the-surface revenge tale that’s actually about love, self-loathing and redemption.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a successful art gallery owner that fails to see the achievement in her work. She’s constantly doubting herself and almost always relying on the compliments of those around her to make sense of her oh so perfect life.
Her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is clearly sneaking around behind her back and it’s not clear if Susan simply doesn’t care or is afraid to confront him and risk losing him to a much younger woman.
This constant self-doubt and questioning didn’t begin with Hutton though, in fact it started a long time ago and had an opportunity to change when she fell in love with her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Edward represented a change for Susan and allowed her to access a different side of her personality that didn’t exactly mirror her mother, who she despises.
But life is full of surprises and Edward is no longer in the picture.
Nocturnal Animals on the surface presents itself as a simple story-within-a-story, allowing Susan to read the novel written by her ex-husband and slowly draw connections between the characters and situations in the novel and her own past experiences in life.
Initially, it comes off as a threatening piece of literature that she can’t put down, but quickly it starts to encompass her life as the past inches closer and closer to the present.
And that’s just part of Tom Ford‘s latest film, which is gorgeous to look at and almost just as engaging on a thematic level. I’ll openly admit that Nocturnal Animals isn’t nearly as strong or as potent as his previous film, A Single Man — but it’s an eye-opener that will haunt you the more you think about it.
That’s because Ford’s film is full of seedy characters that manage to engage you on multiple levels. Take for instance Aaron Taylor-Johnson‘s Ray; he’s a sick and cruel individual with little backstory, yet his unpredictability makes him a ball of nerves to watch. Taylor-Johnson gets completely lost in the role, balancing on the verge of rapist psychopath and coy murderer in a way that feels frighteningly authentic.
Meanwhile, Michael Shannon plays the firm law of the film, turning in a performance that could’ve been just another cop role, but instead is turned into an ultimate story of doing what’s right. His morality goes head-to-head with his own understanding of the law’s arms and it’s mighty satisfying watching his character in the film’s last act.
Jake Gyllenhaal‘s performance (or should I say performances?) are equally impressive, with Gyllenhaal pulling in double duties as both Susan’s ex-husband and a character within the book that he’s writing.
He’s mostly the character within the book and while inside the novel he unleashes a performance that’s full of vulnerability and complicated emotions. His character can ultimately be summed up as a metaphor for love, often-times grappling with the struggles of relationships in a way that’s both respectable and sad. His character grows the most and is smart enough to recognize his weaknesses and adapt on the fly.
This leaves us with Amy Adams‘ Susan. Adams does a phenomenal job initially hiding Susan’s unhappiness and lack of confidence, slowly turning the character against the audience as her true self is revealed. Most actresses would make Susan downright detestable from start-to-finish, yet Adams manages to make her as human as possible.
This leads to one of the most abrupt, yet satisfying endings to grace the silver screen this year.
Tom Ford knows precisely where to cut the film and his stern direction is the bulk of the reason as to why Nocturnal Animals is as good as it is.
Nocturnal Animals isn’t a perfect film by any definition, but it’s one of those “Oscar contenders” that’s actually worthy of the buzz. It’s dark, stylish and seedy all wrapped into one, topped with a perverted cherry. I know that may not sound like the most usual of praise, but trust me when I say that Nocturnal Animals is far from usual, yet that’s exactly why you should give it a shot.