When Colin Firth paired with fashion designer Tom Ford in 2009’s A Single Man, audiences were stunned. It was a roaring success and Ford was considered a talent whose single feat in one of 2009’s most intriguing films had many waiting with bated breath for a follow up that could parallel. It’s been a while, but it’s here.
A Los Angeles art gallery owner (Amy Adams) has her idyllic life with her second husband (Armie Hammer) spoiled by his constant traveling. While he is away, she is shaken by a manuscript to sent by her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The novel, dedicated to her, follows a teacher (also Gyllenhaal) and his family as their road trip turns into a nightmare. Reading the book, it forces Susan to examine her life.
A visual endeavour from writer/director Ford is a trait we’ve come to expect from the talent of all aspects of his varied work. In this form, he’s proven capabilities that far extend the expectations of a newcomer. Nocturnal Animals opens with enough striking imagery to withstand his entire career; a series of atypical models caressing the screen alongside an opening credit sequence that quickly turns the attentions to femme fatale-esque screen presence, Susan.
A frosty exterior, Adams’ main character holds hidden, dark truths. Her eyes glare and gaze profusely like a piercing, animalistic sixth sense. She drifts through the day but is revived enigmatically at night, living up to her ex-husband’s labelling of her as, you guessed it, a “nocturnal animal”. It appears Ford’s spectacular taste has hand-picked a glorious actress to channel a side that’s unprecedented for Adams. An absorbing performance, layered with beauty, spite and a peculiar poignance. It’s a stellar turn and one of two extraordinary performances this year.
In regards to where the plot truly thickens, however, is the turn of events when an ominous manuscript, titled “Nocturnal Animals”, lands in Susan’s hands. Lapping it up, page-by-page, a darker thread weaves itself through an already ambitious plot. Tony (Gyllenhaal’s in-book character) gets into some trouble with greasy, malicious redneck Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), igniting a Texan cop-thriller that’s so intense you wouldn’t mind leaving this particular narrative thread to return to “the real world” if it wasn’t so intriguing itself.
Gyllenhaal’s double performance is a tour de force that’ll no doubt garner award buzz, conveying equal emotion in two subtly different characters. Where there are parallels, however, is in what you take away from Ford’s enigmatic plot. There are clues spliced throughout, but whether or not you’re adhering to the obvious ones or you’re merely swept away into a crime-drama-turn-revenge-tale, you’ll find your appetites clenched by both sides of the story.
Ford’s ambiguous and aspiring thriller laces both past, present and an ominous fictional thread that all fuse to make one enormous element. It’s as confident as filmmaking gets, visually enticing as much as it dazzlingly thought-provoking. He’s proven himself capable of delivering exceptional beauty, but maybe it’s his talent for storytelling that should ignite the highest praise.
Dir: Tom Ford
Scr: Tom Ford
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer
Prd: Tom Ford, Robert Salerno
Music: Abel Korzeniowski
DOP: Seamus McGarvey
Runtime: 117 minutes
Nocturnal Animals is out in cinemas now.