Director: Tom Ford; stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron-Taylor Johnson, Isla Fisher. Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough. 99 minutes.
It has been six-years since Tom Ford directorial debut with his acclaimed first-feature A Single Man. It has been a long wait but his second feature Nocturnal Animals opened in UK cinemas last week and is a well-constructed, stylish yet brutal thriller. Art gallery owner Susan Morrow receives the draft of a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield. Susan finds the novel both compelling and disturbing upon realising the narrative metaphorical of her relationship with Edward.
Ford’s flamboyant creativity is evident from the nauseatingly grotesque opening scene in which two excessively obese podium dancers gyrate in front of an invited audience, their flabby skin bouncing in all directions. One wonders whether this is a statement on waif-like fashion models or the imminent danger of overindulgence as the camera pulls back to reveal four motionless bodies laid face-down on marble slabs – the projected images around them an art exhibit in Susan’s gallery. Things are not what they seem is recurrent theme throughout the movie that skilfully weaves three interconnecting narratives – Susan’s dysfunctional marriage, the novels fictional narrative and Susan’s relationship with Edward.
The clinical, stylish interiors of Susan’s world is in stark contrast to the brutish, dust-infused outback where Tony’s family are terrorised. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey drenches the rustic outdoor scenes in a sepia haze whilst infusing the extravagant city interiors with cold, impersonal detached isolation. The occupants of these living spaces, as opposed to those in Tony’s novel, do not appear to live but merely exist, albeit with an extravagant view of the Los Angeles cityscape.
Closeted in her splendid isolation Susan receives the draft of Edward’s novel, Nocturnal Animals, and becomes engrossed in Edward’s words, eliciting a duplicitous meaning from the story. The novel’s anti-hero, Tony Hastings, is incapable of stopping the abduction of his wife and daughter, constantly having his masculinity questioned as to his inability to protect his family. Jake Gyllenhaal, in a dual role as both the Tony and Edward, is called upon to emit conflicting emotions that the actors achieves faultlessly. In contrast to Tony/Edward is the larger than life detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) whose virility overshadows Tony. Amy Adams gives a sensitive, nuanced performance as Susan, a woman battling with her inner demons whose emotion hides beneath the surface. This is a role that demands the actor express the deep and painful feelings through looks and movement rather than verbally, which Adams pulls off well. Laura Linney is a joy to watch as Susan’s rigid, ice-cold mother that she plays thoroughly inhabits.
Ford, who adapted the screenplay from Austin Wright’s novel ‘Tony and Susan’, creates a compelling drama that skillfully interweaves the fictional narrative of Edward’s novel with the background of their relationship and Susan’s current predicament. It is a multi-layered drama in which not all is as it seems with meaning behind every image. The cracked screen of Isla’s mobile phone not only shows the fractious state of Susan’s marriage to Hutton but also hides a much darker secret. It is a movie that leaves you with many questions the answers to which, on reflection, are plain to see. “Nobody get’s away with what you did. Nobody!”