Film score: 5 out of 5
Nocturnal Animals is a tale about art, reality, and regret. Susan (Amy Adams) leads a lavish but hollow life with second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). Susan receives a manuscript from her estranged ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Spending the weekend alone and unable to sleep, Susan begins to reflect on her past choices as she falls ever deeper into Edward’s tale of tragedy, heartbreak and violence.
Tom Ford’s second film is a refreshing return to film noir, 1950’s Hollywood Thrillers and French New Wave Cinema, permeated by dashes of Hitchcock, Chabrol, Godard and other Cinematic masters.
Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography conjures an eerie and isolating Los Angeles, distant and cold, covered in rain or fog. The city’s ambience is mirrored in the commercial art scene in which Susan now works. Plunged into a wide depth of field, Susan seems lost in her life, constantly detached from a large and empty world. These scenes are contrasted by Susan’s memories of her first husband Edward and the imagined world of his new novel. Both of these words are intimate and colourful, boasting a broader range of colour and smaller frames, allowing characters to truly inhabit both spaces.
Ford’s direction and his writing hold together a narrative that flits between the past, the present and the sub-narrative of Edward’s novel. It would have been easy for the film to become a jarring experience, due to the repeated and sudden switches between all three worlds. Yet Ford manages to pull it off, the differing depths of field, changing colour palettes, and particularly changes in Susan’s wardrobe, merges all three parts into a cohesive whole.
Praise is deserved for Ford’s and McGarvey’s effective use of soviet montage theory in switching between the novel and present day, the camera repeatedly cuts from Edward’s novel to Susan’s reaction to the unfolding events. This cutting between the sadness of Edward’s novel to Susan’s emotions causes the fictional world and reality to bleed over. By the end of the film, it is hard to say whether the events of the film actually happened, or that the audience has witnessed a dream within Susan’s fatigued mind as she regrets her past.
Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon all excel in their roles. It is warming to see that all three actors, who are major stars, are still willing to make films that do not fit the standard box office formula.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson portrays Ray Marcus, the predatory villain of Edward’s novel who leads a small band of thugs. Taylor-Johnson’s depiction of Ray is excellent because the character is a pantomime villain, the audience is not allowed to understand Ray’s motivations or to empathize with him. Essentially Ray does what he does. It is a credit to Taylor-Johnson’s acting that this flaw in the character only appears some time after the film’s end. Throughout his appearance on the screen, Ray acts a centre of tension, he is completely unpredictable and sociopathic.
Ultimately I do not think that the film is a tale of indirect revenge. It seems to hold a deeper meaning about the sacrifices creative people undertake to succeed in their Art, and a commentary on the commercialization of Art in all its forms.
By Saul Shimmin
Target audience: Anyone looking for a good film that they will ponder for days.
For the trailer, see below: