Nocturnal Animals

Review by Manuela Lazic

Directed by

Tom Ford

Starring

Amy Adams Jake Gyllenhaal Michael Shannon

Anticipation.

Tom Ford’s debut was beautiful; this long-awaited follow-up looks bigger, darker and stranger.

Enjoyment.

Gripping for its eccentricity, but too messy and frustrating.

In Retrospect.

As gratuitously cruel as A Single Man was tender.

Tom Ford’s long-awaited follow-up to A Single Man is a gorgeous, wild and wholly frustrating affair.

Tom Ford’s long awaited follow-up to his directorial debut, A Single Man, confirms his dedication to style – unsurprising for a day-jobbing fashion designer. Yet it adopts a more playful approach. A two-part structure sees the director adopts two wildly different styles in order to reflect these bisecting narratives.

A fluid camera follows Susan (Amy Adams) as she drifts through her LA art gallery or her modern house, melancholy and lonely despite her affluence and friends. When she immerses herself in the manuscript sent out of the blue by her ex-husband, Edward, however, Ford’s images flatten like pages from a book. The characters within the novel – and the desert they find themselves lost in – appear on the same saturated plane. Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife and daughter, together with the other characters imagined by Edward, seem imprisoned by this arid environment, a framing device that translates the novel’s inherent trashiness.

In the fictional but somewhat autobiographical book, ‘Nocturnal Animals’, Edward depicts a chilling story of manipulation, trauma and revenge. Tony’s family is randomly attacked by young drifters led by Ray, who, as played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, appears as an unbearable joker trying too hard to be tough. Thankfully, his performance is as atrocious as Michael Shannon’s is delightful, the latter playing Officer Boby Andes. To fit in to this environment, Shannon understands that he has to be as crude and stereotypical as possible. Overblown as the blasé cowboy, not simply nihilistic but actually suicidal, Andes is the most believable character in this world of absurd violence, coming across as the written words that you can feel when passing your hand across the page.

This harrowing story repeatedly forces Susan to put down the book. By linking her luxurious but depressing lifestyle to Tony’s campy descent into hell, Ford attempts to connect their emotions. Susan, however, doesn’t experience violence like Tony does. She feels his pain because she too has regrets. In the tawdriest fashion, Edward displays through Tony his anxious passion and his anger towards Susan. She is supposed to realise that the horror of that story is no less intense than the one he himself endured when she left him.

As Susan remembers their married years through flashbacks, the survival-mode of the novel sits in stark contrast to the romantic portrayal of a love affair blossoming into a complicated marriage. This section is the simplest stylistically yet the richest emotionally. Adams and Gyllenhaal both perfectly capture the optimism tainted by self doubt that characterises early adulthood. In fact, Ford is so fair to both young characters that Edward’s bitterness later in life comes across as childish. The novel’s trashiness has contaminated real life, which, after these emotionally hyper-realistic flashbacks, feels like a heartless twist.

By the film’s close, Ford had made such an annoying mess of his characters’ intentions that it’s hard to care for a final silly attempt at shock revenge. Yet that last scene is representative of the entire film: dramatic yet grotesque, moving yet confusing, delicate until brutally unsubtle, and, finally, disappointing.

Published 4 Nov 2016

Tags: Amy Adams Jake Gyllenhaal Michael Shannon Tom Ford

Anticipation.

Tom Ford’s debut was beautiful; this long-awaited follow-up looks bigger, darker and stranger.

Enjoyment.

Gripping for its eccentricity, but too messy and frustrating.

In Retrospect.

As gratuitously cruel as A Single Man was tender.

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