Review: Nocturnal Animals
Nocturnal Animals is Tom Ford's second feature, but by looking at it, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's the work of a seasoned pro.
Adapting a novel, much like he did with his first film, the superb A Single Man, Ford weaves a twisted tale of young love, murder, heartbreak, and revenge. Equal parts Cormac McCarthy and TV's Dallas, Nocturnal Animals exists in a hyper reality where moments in the "real world" come and go. Amy Adams shines as Susan Morrow, a Los Angeles art gallery owner whose life is spinning out of control. Stuck in a loveless marriage with Hutton, played by an unfortunately underused Armie Hammer, she receives a soon to be published manuscript written by her first husband, and that's where the film really kicks off.
It's rare that the act of reading a novel has been so well represented in cinema. As avid readers know all too well, when you're engrossed in a really good book, the real world tends to slip away. Every moment that a page isn't being turned can be torturous. Ford understands this, as he fills the goings-on of the novel with an immediacy and grit that can be suffocating at times. The novel, concerning the story of a double murder in west Texas and a husband's quest for revenge, with the help of a local detective played with relish by Michael Shannon, is almost too intense. You really feel for this man and Susan (in the real world) does as well. She's visibly shaken and distracted, as evidenced by her interactions with colleagues and her current husband.
Amy Adams is terrific as usual, it's almost a given at this point in her career. It's hard to name a bad performance by her and she's truly one of the best of her generation. Jake Gyllenhaal also impresses, pulling double duty here as both the grieving husband in the novel and as Adams' first husband in real life. He gives one of the strongest performances of the year, running through a lifetime of emotions. It's through this character that Ford examines the concept of masculinity/manhood that seems to be the driving force behind both of his films thus far.
Michael Shannon however is a real highlight here, chewing the scenery and proving himself to be one of the best character actors of all time. His Detective Andes is a good man, willing to go to great lengths to see that justice is served, even when the law won't allow it. The villain of the novel is brought to life by Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Nocturnal Animals is the picture where he finally knocks out of the park. I suppose the old adage is true, with the right material, an actor truly can rise above the status quo.
From a visual standpoint, Ford's latest is a marvel. Though not as stylistic as his first picture, what's on display here is just as impressive. From an opening credits sequence at an art gallery to a terrifying car chase, Ford’s eye is filled with delights. The shot compositions here are some of the most memorable of the year. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is breathtaking, using an eerie color palette that matches the haunting score by Abel Korzeniowski. The composer, reuniting with Ford after his work on A Single Man, matches his earlier work here. Classical in tone, the score goes to dark places, which is to be expected considering the subject at hand.
Nocturnal Animals is the rare film that surprises in a time where most movies follow a "been there, done that" Hollywood mentality. In only his second outing as a director, Tom Ford continues to make singular films like few others. A filmmaker with the kind of visual flair we don't get much of these days, and for that, he's one to be celebrated.