STARRING: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Ellie Bamber, Robert Aramayo, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone and Zawe Ashton
An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.
Nocturnal Animals is a film that has us following a woman named Susan who receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband, a man whom she left twenty years ago and has send the manuscript titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ in order to get her opinion on the material. As she reads the manuscript, we see how the material unfolds before us as we follow a man whose family vacation turns violent and deadly. As Susan continues to read the story, she finds herself recalling her marriage with Edward and confronting some dark truths about herself.
Seven years after his directorial debut, A Single Man, was released in cinemas, this weekend a Tom Ford film was released in cinemas called Nocturnal Animals, a big screen adaptation of Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. The film focuses on an art gallery owner named Susan who spends most of her life at home alone as her husband is often out of town on business. When we learn Susan is struggling to sleep, she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield, who she left twenty years ago. As she becomes engrossed in the story, she begins to believe that the material is a veiled threat against her from Edward.
Now I haven’t checked out Tom Ford’s A Single Man yet and while the trailer leading up to Nocturnal Animals release didn’t reveal much of a plot, it was the main cast of Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal being involved that put my butt on seat as it where. From the films opening title credits which will make viewers question ‘What the hell am I setting myself up to watch?’, every way each shot is framed right down to the set designs, way transitions are used and how the film is edited is filled with such precise purpose that Nocturnal Animals may end up being my favourite film of the year. It plays like two films for the price of one as we have follow Susan and where she is in her life and reminisces her past relationship with Edward in flashbacks and we see the fictional story of ‘Nocturnal Animals’ which Susan is reading. While separately I don’t think that either story could have carried an entire film on its own without the other, it is the reason why this film worked so well for me as to how the stories become connected with its themes and Susan and Edward’s relationship. The film is well directed by Ford, with beautifully dark cinematography Seamus McGarvey and the score from Abel Korzeniowski is darkly haunting. Amy Adams is great in the role of Susan, with Ford seemingly suiting to capturing the most out of her facial expressions as she becomes disillusioned with her place in life currently and being captivated by Edward’s story. Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific also playing dual roles as Edward in Susan’s flashbacks and Tony Hastings in how Susan’s envisions Edward’s tale Nocturnal Animals. While the best support performance in the Susan story comes from Laura Linney in the one scene she appears in as Susan’s mother Anne, there’s two great supporting performances in Edward’s story. Michael Shannon chews up the scenery as Detective Bobby Andes, Aaron-Taylor Johnson for me provides the best performance I’ve seen from him to date yet as the utterly despicable Ray Marcus.
Nocturnal Animals literally warns you from the opening credits that this won’t be a film for everyone. It looks bleak, following a character that is going through a bleak phase of her life and literally there is no heart or hope to be found here. The narrative of the film is giving to the audience in doses but not fully spelled out so there is potential there that once the end credits role, a number of people will be confused by the final scene (and there was a good few people at my screening that didn’t get the ending). For me there is a few scenes in which I’m particularly interested in why they made it in the film (Bird, Baby Monitor) to see what they could be interpreted as, but one of them just seemed to come from nowhere and didn’t fit with the narrative for me.
Nocturnal Animals is definitely one of those films that becomes a table discussion once you leave the screening. It jumps between the real and fictional effortlessly, showing the parallels and themes of Susan and Edward’s relationship, as well as where Susan finds herself now decades later. Adams and Gyllenhaal are terrific onscreen and the supporting performances are great too. The darkness of the film and the lack of spelled out information may be enough to turn some people off the film entirely however. 9/10