Nocturnal Animals review: Designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford delivers up his second, and more complex, film.

Nocturnal Animals review, Luke Ryan Baldock.

Nocturnal Animals review
Nocturnal Animals review

When designer Tom Ford first stepped up to direct a feature length film, it’s probably not far off to suggest that many may have sneered or looked mockingly. It’s the same when any talented celebrity tries something new, but who was this fashion designer to think he could tell a story with A Single Man? Needless to say the film looked stunning, but what surprised was the raw emotional power that Ford conveyed, even with restrained performances. Ford’s second effort is just as beautiful, just as powerful, but also narratively complex in a conflicting yet rewarding way.

Amy Adams is Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner stuck in a seemingly loveless relationship with her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). One day, when Hutton is away on a trip, Susan receives a manuscript of the debut novel of her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). As Susan reads through the manuscript to escape her real-life monotony, she imagines the novel which sees Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), a man out for justice, team with police officer Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon). As Susan gets deeper into the story, she begins to reminisce about her relationship and life with Edward.

Nocturnal Animals review
Nocturnal Animals review

The film’s narrative is complex, subtle, deep, and also frustrating. With Susan as the protagonist, her scenes can be purposefully dry. As she uses Edward’s novel to escape her life, we too are most annoyed when we are dragged from the painful, tense, and powerful fictional story strand. There are few films brave enough to use such juxtaposition as it runs the risk of being called dull, or not feeling cohesive enough. Nocturnal Animals (serving as the name of not only the film, but also Edward’s novel), always feels complete and tactile. We’re frustrated by the jumps, but in a way that forces us to analyse and adore Ford’s masterful manipulation.

The performances, especially that of Gyllenhaal, are also incredible. Gyllenhaal plays two characters, but one of them is a fictional creation of the other. Despite them being very different, Gyllenhaal puts enough of Edward into Tony, where it becomes apparent that this is an emotional confession of sorts. Meanwhile Adams enforces herself in a strong but uncertain way, showing nuance and a dryness that really makes her character feel as though she has has lived through these two defining relationships. Also in the fictional world of Nocturnal Animals, Michael Shannon is once again explosive but with added humour, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is just downright nasty, intimidating, and unlikable in all the right ways.

Nocturnal Animals review
Nocturnal Animals review

Ford once again dips the entire film in beautiful visuals, and here gets to contrast the cold but stylish urban settings and apartments of Susan’s world with the harsh gritty landscape of Edward’s novel. It’s a bizarre and conflicting visual statement, where the safe and pristine life of Susan is also rather dull, while the harsh and brutal world of Tony’s tragedy is more exciting and relatable. Nocturnal Animals is a purposefully divisive film, both within itself and certainly for audiences. Some will enjoy one of the stories more than the other, while others will appreciate both tales woven together. It’s half shocking revenge thriller, and half meditative romance. It delves into complexities and emotions for both character and audience, while offering up confusingly entertaining and tense parts. Bold, thought provoking, and painfully good.

Nocturnal Animals is released on November 4th.

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