By Adam Ray Palmer
Tom Ford, fashion designer and part-time filmmaker, returns to the movie industry 7 years after A Single Man.
This time around with an all-star cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ford debuts his film Nocturnal Animals at Venezia73.
Along with La La Land, I was most looking forward to seeing Nocturnal Animals this year…
Nocturnal Animals is a double-narrative film that follows an art gallery owner (Amy Adams) who is haunted by her ex-husband's (Jake Gyllenhaal) novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.
We begin with an early insight into Susan Morrow (Adams) and Walker Morrow’s (Armie Hammer) unhappy marriage as Susan is disillusioned with her life and Walker jets off to New York every few days to ‘close a deal’. After 19 years of not speaking, Susan receives a novel from her ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal) and she is spooked at what he has written.
She starts to read his book and the double narrative can commence. The novel depicts a story of Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal, in his book) and his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) traveling along a Texas highway with their daughter when they are ambushed off the road. Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his crew decide to torment the family before snatching the females after an altercation. Lou, an accomplice of Ray’s, leaves Tony in the desert to fend for himself. When the ultimate sorrow happens to Tony, he sets out for justice with rebellious cop Bobby Andes (played by a magnificent Michael Shannon).
Meanwhile, back in reality, Susan is juggling her daughter living away from her, a cheating husband and her dire sleeping pattern which leaves her awake all night – hence the reasoning behind Edward’s novel being named Nocturnal Animals.
Tom Ford’s shooting style makes the entire film gripping and compelling. The double-narrative works a treat as Susan’s real-life is like a medicine break for when the hard-hitting novel depiction is on screen. Susan’s scenes are a release but you’re itching to get back to the captivating Tony Hastings story.
Ford has hugely benefitted, but should also be credited for his direction, with having such marvellous talent starring in his film with Adams, Shannon, Taylor-Johnson and Gyllenhaal. The four are engrossing with their individual stories but also intriguing when questions are posed by the filmmaker. Adams’ constant sad eyes draw you in and you can see everything she is thinking on her face. Without even saying a word, we know how she is feeling in the moment and it’s mesmerising.
On the flipside, the erratic Gyllenhaal is perfect as a distraught husband and father. In certain scenes of agony, he shows exactly how good of an actor he is. You fully believe his sorrow and root for him to get justice. The same can be said for Shannon, who just about steals the film. He’ll do whatever it takes to find justice and the audience follow him, even if he needs to go lawless at times. His random hurling and spitting on the floor and carrying on as if nothing has happened just adds mystery to his character until the latter scenes when it is revealed why. One thing Ford does with Bobby Andes (Shannon) though; I don’t ever fully trust him. Maybe it is because Tony is all alone and he depends on Bobby, interesting thought.
A quick mention for Taylor-Johnson, he has had a varied past in movie roles but this is certainly one of his best. He’s creepy and unhinged yes, but he isn’t the standard villain. When I asked Aaron about his involvement in the film and his character, he replied:
“Ray can be creepy, but he’s a lot more than that. He is unpredictable and therefore dangerous. He show’s very little remorse but it could have turned out so differently at the beginning, he looks like he knows deep down.”
And about your involvement?
“I am just still surprised Tom (Ford) asked me to do this role. It’s an honour to be in a Tom Ford film but also to play this kind of character, I never have before. But to why he picked me, knowing I have a wife and two kids, I’m not sure. Maybe it is that reason and I know what will get at Tony”.
I really enjoy Tom Ford making movies and he should do more. His ‘A Single Man’ was an incredible debut and Nocturnal Animals confirms that he is great at two professions. This gritty, dark and twisted film showcases what talent he has and what different type of tales he can bring to the big screen. He constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat for two hours. You can always rely on Ford to leave you with thoughts after the credits roll. Is the book a threat to Susan as she aborted Edward’s child? Or is the novel simply an honest love letter to Susan telling her about the love they once squandered? I guess that’s the beauty.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4 Stars
Nocturnal Animals is released in the UK on 4th November 2016 – certificate TBC