Release date: 4th November 2016/Watch the trailer here
Nocturnal Animals is the second film from fashion designer and director Tom Ford, following his 2009 debut, A Single Man. The film, based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, follows Amy Adams’ gallery owner, Susan Morrow, as she reads a novel sent to her by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’. The novel is dedicated to Susan, and she is shocked to find that it is a violent, unsettling story through which she notices disturbing parallels with her past marriage.
The film itself is divided into three separate threads: Susan’s past, her present, and a fictional detour via Edward’s novel, which plays out as a story within a story. In it, Gyllenhaal plays the protagonist, Tony, who is working with a West Texas detective (Michael Shannon) to find justice after a trip with his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) turns deadly.
Three different narratives have the potential to easily become muddled, but Ford has confidently intertwined each strand so that they come together in a way that feels natural and effortless. The world that Susan lives in is every bit as stylish and polished as one would expect from Tom Ford, but in a manner that feels clinical and cold, reflective of the unhappiness that Susan feels; stuck in a job that she detests that allows her to live a luxurious lifestyle, but with no one other than her cheating husband (Armie Hammer) to share it with.
This is in stark contrast to the past that Susan shared with Edward, where everything is injected with a dose of warmth. Susan begins to reminisce on her old marriage more and more as she works her way through the manuscript, in which she imagines the main character as her ex-husband and sees similarities between the wife in the novel and herself – similarities which only makes the fate of the fictional wife more unnerving to Susan.
The plot of the novel is both enthralling and horrifying in equal parts, differing entirely from the rest of the film in style and tone. Gyllenhaal continues to prove that he is one of the better actors around today, and together he and Shannon form an unlikely duo. It is refreshing, too, to see Aaron Taylor-Johnson finally find a role to sink his teeth into, and he plays Ray – the ringleader of the men responsible for the fate of Tony and his family – in a manner that’s so darkly threatening and intense that he’s uncomfortable to watch at times.
This is, however, Amy Adams’ film. She pours emotion into even the most simple of acts – reading, looking in the mirror – without having to say a word, and it is she that carries the poignant (yet somewhat frustrating) final scene on her capable shoulders. Ford has a fine eye for detail that he has honed across years of fashion design, but in his screenplay and the direction of his actors it is apparent that he has a knack for his characters, too.
And so, with Nocturnal Animals, Ford has more than proved himself as a filmmaker. He has created an ambitious and absorbing thriller, spanning multiple genres and doing so competently, with only the occasional stumble.