Nocturnal Animals (2016)

1 Dec

Celebrity fashion designer Tom Ford returns to the director’s chair with his sophomore effort Nocturnal Animals. Boasting an all-star cast including Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Laura Linney, Karl Glusman, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, the film focuses on the relationship between Susan, a successful L.A.-based installation artist, and Edward, her novelist ex-husband. One day at work, Susan receives a manuscript from Edward, in which he seemingly writes himself (or at least an idealized version of himself) in as the main character of a pulpy crime novel set in rural Texas. The film follows Susan’s ever-shifting perspective as she is moved enough from reading the work (titled Nocturnal Animals) to reconcile her shady romantic history with Edward. Nocturnal Animals as a film dives into the story-within-a-story framework to show us onscreen the events Susan reads about, as well as her ever-changing mental state. The fictional and non-fictional worlds collide in more ways than expected.

Ford, a director who has taken great interest in the psychological headspaces of his characters, is at the top of his game. It’s surprising to see a director with only one film under the belt (Ford also directed the Oscar-nominated drama A Single Man) deliver such solid results. Everything about Nocturnal Animals bleeds a sophisticated and professional kind of drama; whether the on-screen events are focused on something as explosive as a rape or as subtle as a romantic dinner conversation, the film sustains hefty amounts of dramatic tension throughout.

Much of Nocturnal Animals’ success also has to go to its acting. Gyllenhaal and Shannon are both some of the best powerhouse talents working today, and they each bring enormous amounts of frantic energy to the table. It’s Amy Adams who really brings the film’s emotional core home; she has a heartfelt subtext to her complex and layered character that binds the film’s dual stories together. Nocturnal Animals also looks amazing. Shot by Oscar-nominated Seamus McGarvey (Anna Karenina, We Need To Talk About Kevin), the film displays elegant camerawork that compliments the multifaceted storytelling. Though the melodrama runs a bit too thick at points and some moments seem to serve little purpose and disrupt the narrative flow (one flashback tragically interrupts one of the films’ most suspenseful scenes), Nocturnal Animals is exactly the sort of sophisticated filmmaking hollywood needs more of.

Bottom Line: With an emphasis on story and performance, director Tom Ford creates a multi-layered and stylish drama supported by an all-star cast. 

Rating: 8/10 

Film recipe: Gone Girl + Blue Valentine + Mystic River

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