After A Single Man, director Tom Ford takes on another adaptation in Nocturnal Animals. Based on the novel Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals is a moody, deeply engrossing tale that simultaneously depicts a contemporary Western thriller and LA upper-class drama in tandem, resolving both in an unforgettable, dark conclusion. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Amy Adams’ cold-hearted curator delivers one of her most memorable performances against a stellar cast that includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer and Michael Sheen. Nocturnal Animals assures us of Tom Ford’s distinctive, singular and challenging vision as a key voice in cinema today.
Opening with Susan’s (Adams) art work on display in her gallery, age and excess is at the forefront of our mind in a manner that artist Jenny Saville would be familiar with. Susan has it all, a stylish profession and an enormous swanky home, complete with a Jeff Koons sculpture in her front garden. Her husband, Walker Murrow (Hammer), is distant. He works long hours, fails to support her art gallery and spends weekends away in New York. This is her second marriage and, upon receiving a proof copy of her ex-husband’s latest novel, she is drawn into thinking about the past. We see his book play out on screen: Tony (Gyllenhaal), his wife (Fisher) and their daughter (Ellie Bamber) are driving across the long and lonesome interstates of west Texas. They’re set upon by a group of rednecks (Taylor Johnson among them) who shun their car off the road, taunting and threatening them. Susan cannot put the book down and she is forced to reflect on her decisions and what they reveal about her. Between the vast, contrasting landscapes, Nocturnal Animals is constantly forcing us to compare these vivid lives. Modernity and tradition, wealth and poverty, metal and dust: opposing forces that pull and tug at each other. Ford weaves parallels throughout, and though Isla Fisher could be a clone of Amy Adams, in some shots it is clear that Adams and Gyllenhaal share more in common than a short-lived marriage. The contemporary setting, within the art gallery and her affluent home, is sharp and clinical. We can feel the disconnect Susan feels, as if she is an imposter. When we flashback seamlessly to happier days with her ex-husband, it is warm and cosy. Laura Linney as Susan’s Republican mother, in a single scene, manages to reveal Susan’s scars and the mistakes she is doomed to make. Michael Shannon, as a gruff, cigarette-sucking law man, seems a comfortable role but he delivers it with authenticity and sincerity.
Tom Ford has crafted an atmospheric masterpiece. There is a palpable tension that runs through the stories, through the filmmaker and to us in the audience. Attending elegant parties with artists and authors (something Ford would know intimately), he frames the lifestyle as the sumptuous, luxurious world we expect of the upper-class. But he doesn’t portray it without criticism, often noting how absurd and ridiculous this part of society is. There are comments on art and gender buried within the onion-like layers of Nocturnal Animals, and it’ll stir in your subconscious for conversations to come.
Abel Korzeniowski’s magnificent score evokes a Hitchcockian edge, ensuring that Nocturnal Animals carries an eerie 1950’s charm. Ford is precise and specific though, leaving no shot or moment without meaning. Nocturnal Animals reiterates how strength can be found in revealing oneself and tackling the demons we try so hard to hide. It is through art that Ford expresses himself, and Nocturnal Animals provides a gateway into his mind.