Nocturnal Animals (2016)
dir. Tom Ford
written by: Tom Ford
starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
3.5 out of 4 stars
I have been plagued by a specific movie most awards seasons. I was joined in a chorus of “I don’t get it”s with The Big Short last year. The year before I was disappointed in The Imitation Game; it felt dead, and I don’t award posthumously with earning it. Nebraska left me cold before that, and the list continues. This year that pain in my ass is Hell or High Water, a clever Western that mixed a bit too much racism with their heteronormativity for my tastes. Thankfully Tom Ford has garnered notable attention for his own West Texas thriller.
Based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, Tom Ford’s sophomore film blends his natural couture artistry with pulse pounding abusive emotional effect. As Susan’s (Amy Adams) marriage and finances fade, her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends the manuscript for his debut novel Nocturnal Animals, Susan reads it with increasing unease, as their hypothetical family is obliterated on the page.
Except for maybe when Dolores Umbridge got her sphincters handed to her, reading has never been so thrilling an act. Adam Adams, sensual and intensely pensive, loses herself in the act of devouring her exes novel. They have barely interacted in years, and the story she receives tears her eyes open in a dread that seems so real in Adam’s deep eyes. The story told within the book, giving prime opportunities for the modern wild west narrative, fills the adventure with uneasy terror that is gruesomely artistic. Ford’s eye for the violent underbelly, both in narrative and spectacle, is found in few other filmmakers.
Acting-wise, the bulk of the action is held within Edward’s story. Jake Gyllenhaal plays many hats from the meek Edward to his more daring self as Tony in his novel. The anger bubbling under Edward is able to be unleashed in a multifaceted terror and vengeful passion absent from the standard revenge thriller. Tony’s fear and disgust at the events in the novel eerily remind of the betrayal inflicted by Susan. Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Age of Ultron) finds his prideful villain in the psychopathic Ray Marcus. Demented as Ezra Miller in We Need to Talk About Kevin, his showy role reeks of the serialized version of some crime. Michael Shannon steals the show as the detective unwilling to allow the legal system from deterring justice. Filled with humor and striking existential distress, the role reads like many of his previous off-kilter supporting characters (Revolutionary Road, 99 Homes), but the righteous portrayal makes this possibly his best role.
Breathtaking photography from Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, Godzilla) highlights the beautiful designs from costume designer Arianne Phillips (Walk the Line, 3:10 to Yuma) and production designed for starkly different storylines. Editor Joan Sobel and composer Abel Korzeniowski reteam with Ford after A Single Man allowing for a consistently eerie and tumultuous aesthetic for his enthralling second feature. This designer knows his own art.