Tom Ford’s second directorial feature (yes, that Tom Ford) is a film about the changing state of relationships, the importance of the arts and the value of emotion in the modern world; the vastly different sides of the American landscape, often blurring the line between reality and fantasy in a way at once both stylish and authentic. Above all else, it’s just a great film.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), the disenchanted owner of a successful art gallery, receives a manuscript of a novel, ‘Nocturnal Animals’, from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), which is dedicated to her. As she later confesses, ‘he always used to call me a nocturnal animal’. As she reads the manuscript however, the narrative arc branches off down three separate routes: the present-day world of her reading the novel, the neo-noir stylised world of the novel itself, and flashbacks to her past as her reading causes her to confront some unfortunate truths.
Very within the realms of art house cinema, Nocturnal Animals is a complete thrill ride from start to finish, laden with suspense and revelation throughout. As the worlds of the present and the novel intertwine, cinematography takes centre stage with camera shots that linger just that bit too long. We see wide, evocative, lonely desert landscape shots in Edwards Novel set against cold, clinical modern settings in Susan’s present, and intimate personal shots for scenes of both romance and violence. The film absolutely drips with style – pause at almost any frame and you’ll be presented with an interesting photograph. Frequent allusions and subtle references to classical and modern art also aid the tone of the film and the separate worlds within. Edward sat at the side of the bath in a pose reminiscent of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’, or the brash and abrasive Damien Hirst-esque formaldehyde pieces lining the modern art gallery. Darker elements of the film are still upsetting in nature, but Ford never pushes the boundary too far, and presents the sections tastefully.
That’s not to say that the film is style over substance, however. There is a thick and intriguing multifaceted storyline to follow and a stellar ensemble cast of A-listers that particularly aid the film. The striking similarity between Amy Adams and Isla Fisher is no coincidence, and the reputation of these actresses only aids the multi-storey element. Gyllenhaal puts in a smart and emotional performance as ever, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is particularly loathe-able as the villain of the piece, which is somewhat a role reversal from his previous parts. Other parts worth a mention include Armie Hammer as Susan’s husband Hutton, Michael Shannon as a delightfully stereotypical Texan sheriff, and Michael Sheen as Carlos. When it comes to art and fashion, Ford’s personal experience serves as a brilliant pastiche, both utilising and criticising key tropes as he pleases, and above all else presenting story telling.
As it’s November already, I have no reservations in claiming Nocturnal Animals to be the best film I have seen of the year so far – full of depth, intrigue, drama and elegance, it stays with you a long time after the credits roll. It almost seems a shame that it might go unnoticed, buried amongst the rest of the season’s releases.