Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Ellie Bamber, Jena Malone
Run Time: 116 mins
‘Nocturnal Animals’ heralds the return of fashion designer / occasional director Tom Ford after 2009’s ‘A Single Man’ which received stellar reviews and got lead star Colin Firth an Oscar nomination. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a neo-noir crime thriller that tells the story of Amy Adams who plays a rich yet emotionally troubled art gallery owner who out-of-the-blue, is sent the manuscript of her ex-husband’s novel titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ that is dark and violent and she begins to notices parallels with the events being portrayed in the book and of her marriage. The film has opened to positive reviews and Adams has received stellar reviews for her performance both here and in Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi ‘Arrival’, both of which opened in the UK a week apart. After what has been a lengthy 7 year wait, here’s hoping that Ford is able to craft yet another intricately crafted and exciting film.
‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a suitably dark, poetic and meticulously crafted film by Tom Ford and features some utterly spellbinding sequences. It features brilliant performances across the board but the standouts are Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and surprisingly Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The stories are intricately woven together and the cinematography and score are absolutely stunning. It is a near-perfect film but where perhaps the film is a little flawed is in Ford’s precise attention to detail and the film can feel a little removed from its material as it sometimes doesn’t get a chance to breathe. Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters novel which becomes a central focus in the story and slowly begins to drip into Amy Adams’ reality is by far the strongest link in the film and it is perfectly crafted but Adams’ arc is also carefully constructed and the juxtapositions between these different arcs and stories are endlessly poetic.
The performances in ‘Nocturnal Animals’ are absolutely stunning, perhaps the strongest of the year so far. Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are the standouts here. Gyllenhaal cements himself as one of the best actors of his generation and gives an absolute knock-out performance as the fragile husband of Adams and the devastated main protagonist of his novel. This is not the first time he has played a dual role – he did a great job in Denis Villeneuve’s ‘Enemy’ and alongside ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Nightcrawler’, this is one of his best performances. Michael Shannon gives a career-best performance here as the unorthodox, cancer-ridden Detective who assists Gyllenhaal’s character in the novel sequence when all hell breaks loose. Shannon has always been an actor that always gives great performances but the films he plays in are often lacking, particularly the filmography of Jeff Nichols, but here he is perfectly cast for a role that is very much suited to his demeanour. I owe Aaron Taylor-Johnson an apology. I have written in the past how I find him bland and he pretty much single-handedly ruined the latest adaptation of ‘Godzilla’ but here he is frightening, menacing and unpredictable. He is more than able to keep his own against the strengths of Gyllenhaal and Shannon. Surprisingly, Amy Adams is the weakest link out of the main four here, despite being heralded for her performance. She is still very competent here but her character is given the lesser character arc out of these actors and doesn’t really get a chance to electrify the audiences with a three dimensional performance, she is very much a narrative device. The film also features multiple cameo’s from established actors and Isla Fisher (who bears many resemblances to Amy Adams in her scenes which surely is on purpose) is very strong here as well as Laura Linney who makes a lasting impression as the mother of Adams’ character that comments that we all turn into our mothers one day. It is a haunting sequence, powerfully acted by both Linney and Adams and justifies why we feel cold around Adams’ character.
The story is split into three sections – Adams’ in the present and how she is suffering a failing marriage to Armie Hammer’s cheating husband who reads this manuscript, Adams’ past with Gyllenhaal’s character and how she betrays him and Gyllenhaal’s novel. As mentioned, the most gripping of the three is the novel and is one of the best revenge thrillers I have ever seen put to screen combining the grit of the Coen Brothers, the brooding atmosphere by the filmography of Denis Villeneuve and hints of Cormac McCarthy – it is violent, harrowing and incredibly intense – there are multiple sequences that are just nerve-racking to watch unfold on-screen and solidifies why cinema is a medium that can reach anyone. The other stories too are very engaging and intricately crafted by Ford’s mise-en-scene. If the film has a flaw, it’s in the fact that the story can be a little cold at times due to Ford’s meticulous direction whose fashion roots have clearly inspired this film and this can clash with the characters on-screen a little and not give the film a chance to play out on its own terms – he has total control here and every single frame is precisely what Ford envisioned. The film is extremely intelligent and methodical in what it chooses to reveal and when. This is a film that will challenge audiences and offer many different interpretations over the meanings this film might have.
The score by Abel Korzeniowski is stunning and very Bernard Hermann-esque and fits the film perfectly – one of the best scores of the year and I hope it gets attention at the Academy Awards. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, who is on an impressive streak lately, has clearly been under the rein of Ford’s direction and is able to bring this imaging to life. Every single shot in this film is extremely precise and there are many different images that clash and contrast with each other, offering multiple meanings and interpretations.
‘Nocturnal Animals’ is quite simply, a remarkable film that boasts many layers and interpretations to it – quite simply it is one of the best films of the year. The performances here are incredible and will be hard to top for Gyllenhaal, Shannon and Taylor-Johnson. It combines the best traits of the revenge thriller genre juxtaposed with Ford’s fashion-heavy world that Amy Adams’ character exhibits and although perhaps Gyllenhaal’s novel is the most resonating arc of the three, the film manages to blend these stories together. The film ends on a particularly bleak yet beautifully crafted note and when it had finished, it was clear that this film was a near-masterpiece. Although I feel that this film will be short-changed when it comes to Award Season (it will not work for everyone) and I am a little disappointed that Adams has chosen to put her efforts into ‘Arrival’ as this won’t do anything in this film’s favour, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ serves as a great reminder about why we go to the cinema and consume films. This film is challenging, endlessly sophisticated and takes a lot of risks. It is definitely worth your attention.