Movie review: Tom Ford delivers a visually stunning quagmire in ‘Nocturnal Animals’
–Cinema, as an art form, can do a lot of different things. For many independent films, you have a blank slate to create a rich world. This includes everything from the look and feel, to the stories and characters.
Tom Ford is a famed fashion designer who has turned to plying his creative eye to film. In 2009 he delivered the critically-acclaimed “A Single Man,” which saw Colin Firth nominated for Best Actor. It’s been seven years since that film was released, and now Ford is back with another beautiful, haunting and challenging tale in “Nocturnal Animals.”
“Noctural” — based on a screenplay from Ford and a novel by Austin Wright — is a curious film. It’s full of complex characters and a weaving narrative that moves through the past, fiction and the present fluidly. But what ties it together is a serious and beautiful film style that captures your attention and pulls you in.
Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful art gallery owner trapped in a seemingly loveless marriage with a struggling financial broker, Hutton (Armie Hammer). They live in a beautifully ornate, yet cold house and attend social functions that seem to match that lifestyle.
But Susan is unhappy, and still haunted by the past. That comes more to the forefront when she receives the latest, unpublished novel by her ex-husband. Titled Nocturnal Animals, the novel is dedicated to Susan. As she reads it, Susan finds a violent, disturbing story.
In it a family man named Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his family are the victims of a road rage incident. In the wake of the violent encounter, Tony works with a local detective — Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) — to find the men responsible, led by a vicious sociopath named Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
In reading the novel, Susan can’t help but remember her relationship with her ex-husband, Edward (also Gyllenhaal), and the vicious way it ended. It leads her to be wistful about the past and the life she might have had, and guilty about the way it all ended.
It’s fair to say nothing in cinema this year is like “Nocturnal Animals.” The visual style is incredible and the performances are rich, while the story is beyond strange. That can be off-putting for some. The opening credit sequence of this film alone is memorable in a way that could make or break some interest in the film. In fact, if you favor clear cut and straight forward narratives, this movie isn’t for you.
Which isn’t to say that “Nocturnal Animals” is without merit. It’s fascinating and a masterfully constructed film. It’s haunting in a way that sticks with you long after the story ends, in both positive and negative ways. And it’s clear that much like with “A Single Man,” a film I didn’t personally enjoy, Ford made the movie he wanted to make the way he wanted to make it.
That is a victory for film as an art form. This film is an expression of themes and styles that were moving to Ford. Every frame has meaning and purpose, and that helps give it power.
But this is decidedly not your typical film. The story is open-ended and finishes in a place that won’t necessarily satisfy American audiences’ desire for resolution. It’s also a film that bounces around so much in its storytelling that some may wonder what the point was. But for those who can sink into the narrative, you’re left with something that goes to unexpected places. That’s a credit to Ford. It’s also the reason he earned a Golden Globe nomination for best screenplay and best director.
It’s also a credit to the actors. Adams, Gyllenhaal, Shannon and Taylor-Johnson — who earned a Golden Globe nomination — all give incredible performances.
If you’re looking for something traditional, “Nocturnal Animals” isn’t it. If you’re up for a different, artistic film experience, this is the kind of film that gives you plenty to chew on.
“Nocturnal Animals” has been rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language. Enter with caution.
Three stars out of four.