Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher
I had a lot of love for Tom Ford’s first feature film, A Single Man. I thought it showed class, style, talent and a keen eye for direction. He was also helped by an outstanding performance from Collin Firth, for which I believe he should have been awarded the Oscar for Best Actor as opposed to his overrated turn as King George VI in The King’s Speech. However, with Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford has taken the next step in his filmic career and has demonstrated that he’s so much more than a one hit wonder. I found his neo-noir psychological thriller to be absorbing and wonderfully eerie.
Tom Ford adapted Nocturnal Animals from the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright and the film follows the story pretty closely. Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is the owner of an art gallery in L.A. and one day receives a manuscript for a novel called ‘Nocturnal Animals’ from her ex husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Once Susan starts to read it she quickly becomes engulfed by the tale and the film pivots between her in the real world and the torrid tale Edward has written. His novel tells the story of a mild-mannered man called Tony who’s life is turned upside down when he, his wife and daughter get run off a deserted road in West Texas in the middle of the night by three despicable individuals, Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lou, and Turk.
Susan, enjoy the absurdity of our world. It’s a lot less painful. Believe me, our world is a lot less painful than the real world.
Nocturnal Animals is a revenge story, both in the real world and the fictional one that Edward has created in his novel. Unfortunately for her, Susan finds herself trapped in both. It gets so bad at points that Edward’s story starts to creep into Susan’s actual life. She begins to see some of the characters in telephone screens and in her tormented dreams. It’s genuinely disturbing how a man could devote his time to writing something for the sole purpose of getting his own twisted form of revenge on someone whom he feels has wronged him.
I can understand why certain critics found Edward’s actions to be childish, even sexist, but I thought them to be more the actions of a mentally disturbed individual. Early on in the film you learn that Susan hasn’t spoken to Edward for 19 years. To think that Edward’s hatred for her would fester over such a long period of time is both sad and dangerous, which has ultimately resulted in him writing this violent peace of fiction which was intended for Susan’s eyes only. Edward doesn’t care whether the manuscript is published or not, he just wants to get his own back on his ex-wife and went to great lengths to ensure that she would read his work.
I should have stopped it!
I was gripped from start to finish by Nocturnal Animals. I loved how Tom Ford approached both worlds, seamlessly blending the two. The film switches from one to the other effortlessly. There’s no need for title cards to explain what we are watching, we can just tell. The moments where Edward’s fictional story seeped into Susan’s real world were also well executed. I could see echoes of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist in certain scenes. Upon learning that Ford would be adapting Austin Wright’s novel for the big screen, I wasn’t entirely sure whether he was the right man for the job. Could Tom Ford really do the story justice? Could he really make a neo-noir psychological thriller? Well, he certainly delivered.
Ford cast the perfect actors for this film. Amy Adams doesn’t say too much, but she’s able to convey such a wide range of emotion just with her face. It’s absolutely astonishing. 2016’s been a particularly good year for the actress, delivering two perfect performances in two of my favourite films of the year, this film and Arrival. Then there’s Jake Gyllenhaal, who has the difficult job of playing two characters in one film: Edward and his fictional creation, the loving father, Tony. Gyllenhaal can do no wrong in my eyes. He does everything so effortlessly, whether it be the charming Edward on a first date with Susan, or the desperate man looking for his wife and daughter’s murderers. Michael Shannon vanishes into his role of Lt. Bobby Andes, the policeman tasked with Tony’s case.
Wanna dance? Wanna dance?
However, there’s one performance in this film that stands above the rest in Nocturnal Animals for me, and that is Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s. He’s unrecognisable as the utterly vile Ray Marcus. Once exiting the cinema I had to check on IMDB that it was really him. He’s brilliantly nasty, repulsive and terrifying. I loved every moment with him onscreen, whether he was menacing Tony and his family on a dark and deserted road in West Texas, or sitting naked on an outside toilet. It’s no wonder that he came away with the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. I’d be very surprised if he doesn’t sweep up all the awards this year for his turn in Nocturnal Animals. I honestly never knew that he had this character in him, and credit has to go to Tom Ford for getting it out of him.
I understand if Nocturnal Animals is not everybody’s cup of tea, but it certainly was mine. I understand people’s negative reactions to the film, but I took a lot away from it and had it on my mind for days afterwards. That’s the mark of a truly great film. It’s one that stays with you for days and your mind keeps on going back to it, reliving certain scenes. It’s only Tom Ford’s second picture and it proves that he’s a director to keep an eye on. I’m keen to see what he does next.