Love, revenge and masculinity run deep in Nocturnal Animals, the latest film made by fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford. His previous film was 2009’s A Single Man, the elegant and subtle tale of a closeted gay man at odds with himself. Now he’s returned to play with those same themes in two different ways, melodrama and pulp. Nocturnal Animals is based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel “Tony and Susan” and among our first character introductions is Susan Morrow (played by Amy Adams). Her demeanor is ice cold and extremely calculating, the type of behavior that suggests deep sorrow and unnamed guilt.
Both of these assumptions turn out to be true the more we learn about her nature as the film progresses. She has traded in ambition for a dead-end marriage with a philandering businessman named Hutton (played by Armie Hammer), the art gallery she runs isn’t fulfilling her and to top it all off her first ex-husband has just re-entered the picture. That man is Edward and the divorced couple hasn’t spoken in almost twenty years, a fact that actor Jake Gyllenhaal convincingly brings to light in his character Edward’s eyes and facial expressions throughout most of the movie.
There’s a reason for Edward’s return and that is to deliver his soon-to-be-published novel to Susan’s door (also titled “Nocturnal Animals”). Back when they were married she was his greatest sounding board so her input is important to him. But as Susan begins to read the text something strange happens, old memories resurface and a dark turn in the manuscript reveals something that may-or-may-not be at the heart of this broken couple’s dissolve.
Ford delicately plays with two running narratives in Nocturnal Animals, the first is the story of Edward and Susan’s failed marriage told mostly through soapy melodrama. Second, there’s the internal version of the story found in Edward’s novel which may or may not be fiction. This is depicted as a Texas-flavored thriller complete with a Jim Thompson-esque mystery and a colorful deputy (played by a scene-stealing Michael Shannon). Guilt and depression eventually tie these two separate narratives together with a satisfying finish that proves A Single Man was no fluke for the affluent director.
Sophisticated film lovers will find plenty to appreciate in Nocturnal Animals, but the biggest standouts are cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and composer Abel Korzeniowski (also of A Single Man). Crafting the beautiful look and sound of this film is no easy task but they hit all the right notes between tonal shifts. When we are in the present day with Susan and Edward the film looks cold and detached, while the pulpy version inside the novel is drenched in exaggerated light and frenetic sounds. All the major players in Nocturnal Animals are firing on all-cylinders and it suggests the beginning of a long filmmaking career for Tom Ford. His eye behind the camera is ambitious and the good news is he has the skills to back it up.
Marco’s TIFF Rating: B+
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