Today: June 19, 2024

Nocturnal Animals

After the success of his gorgeous debut film A Single Man you would imagine designer Tom Ford would have been in high demand in Hollywood. But he’s taken his time with his sophomore effort, keeping us waiting to see if his first film was a flash in the pan or a beacon that heralded the arrival of a fascinating filmmaker. Suffice to say his follow-up Nocturnal Animals is a film so compelling and dazzling as to mark Ford as a filmmaker to revel in.

The plot follows two separate, but intrinsically linked, narratives. The first sees Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner in a marriage disintegrating around her to human mannequin Hutton (Armie Hammer). One morning she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). His latest novel is dedicated to Susan and he is anxious to hear her thoughts. It is within the pages of the novel, Nocturnal Animals, that the second narrative follows Tony (also played, tellingly, by Gyllenhaal) as a man traveling with his wife and daughter who encounters a violent gang, led by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and watches his world be ripped apart in front of his eyes.

Noirish, gripping and often unsettling Nocturnal Animals, as the title suggests, is a predatory piece. Susan’s story strand is decadent in every way, Adams gliding through her lonely existence, Ford shooting her as if in the most aggressively moody perfume commercial ever seen. We’re equal parts drawn into and repelled by the life she leads. At first Ford teases us to feel sorry for her, her husband disinterested by their life together and everyone else little more than subservient to her.  

But what gradually, and often unnervingly, transpires is the truth of the disintegration of Susan and Edward’s relationship, as seen through a series of flashbacks. Meanwhile the story within Edward’s novel smartly, darkly, violently and heartbreakingly reflects and comments on Susan and Edward’s relationship in reality. It is a masterclass in storytelling from Ford who keeps you on tenterhooks as the reality of everything comes screaming towards you in the final act.

The visual prowess cements what Ford is articulating. In the novel narrative the world is dusty, clouded over and never quite crystal clear. But in Susan’s world everything is pristine and yet some how not quite real. Instead it feels artificial, given to her but never earned.

Adams brings a wonderfully still and almost vampire like quality to Susan. Her pallid look stunningly juxtaposed with the rich colours Ford dresses her in. Michael Shannon, playing a gruff, Eastwood like lawman in the novel, captures the brooding, ever-building anger of the piece all while his own life is sucked from him. Taylor-Johnson continues to prove he’s an endlessly more interesting character actor than he is leading man, his Ray is disgustingly hostile, a nightmarish figure who haunts both stories. Gyllenhaal meanwhile, no stranger to dual roles after the staggering but underseen Enemy, is typically brilliant. As Edward he’s the perfect Texan gentleman, all clean cut, sparkly eyed with boyish charm. But it is as Tony that he dazzles. Watching him first break and then give into the anger that has been building is a treat. It’s through his performance that the very ideals of revenge are captured.

A beautiful, seductive and deeply emotive film, Nocturnal Animals glares at you from the screen, eyes glistening in the headlights, to draw you into its devastating conclusion.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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