Director: Tom Ford
I really like Nocturnal Animals, it’s weird, it’s a film that I don’t love but it’s very very hard to find any specific fault with.
There’s a lot to love about Nocturnal Animals. It follows, nominally, Amy Adams’ character, (Man of Steel, American Hustle, Arrival, Big Eyes), who lives this very aesthetically orientated life in the Los Angeles art world. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that it’s set in the art world for two reasons. The first being that her art is all about aesthetics and the twisting of beauty into something sordid purely on a visual level and that does reflect the themes of the film, (that’s not explicitly stated, it’s just my interpretation of her art), and in fact her own opinion of her art becomes a major plot point. The second reason is that director Tom Ford, (A Single Man), used to be a fashion designer, and despite the fact that he has a rule never to place his own products in his films, setting a film in the high sheen art world I feel just gives him an excuse to have the film so meticulously designed, I mean the premise really allows Ford to indulge himself, but not in a Tarantino way in which The Hateful Eight becomes Reservoir Dogs but twice the length and half the quality. Although what it does mean, is that for most of the film I felt really detached, I wanted the film to cut deeper, I felt like I didn’t know these characters in a way I wanted to. That does change, but only really in the last act and all at once and it can be quite frustrating for the rest of the film, although it does mean the actual pay off itself is really significant and striking. Amy Adams gets a draft of a book from her ex-husband played by Jake Gylenhaal, (Donnie Darko, Zodiac, Source Code), and to quote Adams, “it’s violent, and sad, and he dedicated it to me”.
The film has what one would definitely call a star studded cast. Not really big names but all very very talented character actors. Aside from Amy Adams and Jake Gylenhaal, the later of whom I really like because he just seems to be a really dedicated character actor who also happens to be a big star; we have Andrea Riseborough, (Birdman, Oblivion), and Micheal Sheen, (Kingdom of Heaven, Frost/Nixon), both quite unrecognisable in their roles, who exist to, in a way counterbalance Adams’ empty relationships with something that has a real emotional connection but also have all the materialistic decadence; we have Armie Hammer, (The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Social Network), as Adams’ husband, who seems to be very changeable in his roles and works best when he doesn’t play a particularly likable character but in a way that’s very self effacing, unlike this role where he seems to take himself far too seriously and I don’t think he really works; for the bulk of the story-in-a-story we have Micheal Shannon, (Boardwalk Empire, Midnight Special, Man of Steel), who I’m a rather large fan of, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, (Kick-Ass, Godzilla, Avengers: Age of Ultron), both chewing a whole hunk of scenery and doing it very well; we have Jana Malone and Karl Glusman, who were both so good in The Neon Demon, making small but very good and very well acted and very relevant appearances; I could go on.
The real benefit of this film is two-fold though. The first is that this film is a real achievement in narrative story-telling. Normally a framed narrative acts as a sort of alienation device, if it divides the author from the story you can not only have more freedom to talk about political ideas because well, these things are being said by someone else not the author, being the defense. It also prevents you getting emotionally involved in the characters, sort of forcing you to engage with the story on an intellectual not emotional level. The genius of the framed narrative in Nocturnal Animals is kind of hard to describe though. Our main character is Amy Adams, however the story that forms the meat of the movie is in the book she reads during the story, the trailer cuts it all together to make it look like something completely different though. The book is so intricately linked into the story of our main character than the line between them becomes blurred, the direction shows this very obviously with some very well placed match cuts. The fact is that despite the book being the story you’re engaged with most, the fact is that the book is Gylenhaal saying to Adams ‘this is what you did to me, this is how you made me feel’, so very soon the relevance of the story becomes how much it reveals about Adams, not just to us but to herself about what she did to her ex husband. It’s quite brilliant. The second joy is Gylenhaal himself. He was robbed of even an Oscar nomination for Nightcrawler but he is more than deserving of the Oscar itself in this film because he is quite incredible.
Nocturnal Animals is an engaging psycho-sexual/noir/western/thriller with an incredible cast who for the most part do very well and it has a really meaningful message, i.e. “when you love somebody you hold onto it, you might never get that again”, which is a really warm message to break though the darkness of the narrative, which is really bleak. The ending was slightly unsatisfying but appropriate, I feel it would have worked better in the original novel this is based on, I wanted more emotional involvement despite the fact it does come eventually, but Nocturnal Animals is definitely worth your time, and Tom Ford is a writer/director who deserves for you to vote for him with your dollars more than fucking Michael Bay, (Transformers, Armageddon). It’s one of three big Amy Adams movies this year, and whilst I haven’t seen Arrival this is head and shoulders better than her other entry, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Nocturnal Animals pulls no punches.