In Tom Ford’s feature film debut, A Single Man, he impressed audiences with a seductively visual and breathless film that demonstrated the successful fashion designer also has a knack for directing. When he announced his follow-up, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, some people (and by some I mean me) thought that the Ford should have just gone back to creating beautiful womenswear and smartly tailored suits. A Single Man felt as though Ford needed to get his one film out of his system – then he did, and now we can all move on. But his sophomore effort immediately silenced all my doubts and made me yearn for a third helping of Tom Ford cinema. Nocturnal Animals fires on all cylinders when it comes to style, storytelling, and Ford’s vision – one that is becoming increasingly inimitable.
Ford adapted the screenplay from the Austin Wright novel Tony and Susan, which follows the affluent Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) who lives with her emotionally unavailable husband (Armie Hammer). When she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), she is taken by surprise as she hasn’t heard from him in years. More than that, he asks to meet him the next time he is in Los Angeles. When she starts reading the novel, which is dedicated to her, she is pulled into the devastating story about a helpless man on the hunt for a menacing trio of men that kidnapped his wife and daughter — a story that opens a Pandora’s box of emotions that starts to haunt her life.
There’s an appreciated amount of restraint and refinement to Ford’s developing filmmaking skills. Whereas A Single Man had an emphasis on hyper-beautiful visuals shown through a ’60s posh haze to tell the story of a man in mourning, Nocturnal Animals feels more grounded in emotion and traditional when it comes to visuals, but Ford’s fantastical eye still manages to capture incredible snapshots worthy of the pages of Vogue because he is a fashion designer after all. Just like he had Gucci in A Single Man, there is plenty of luxe Tom Ford garb to be had throughout Nocturnal Animals.
Ford’s affinity for redheads (see: Julianne Moore) puts Adams in the lead as a country girl-turned-unfulfilled cosmopolitan art gallery owner — who fills the role with an incredible, tormented presence that counters Gyllenhaal’s emotionally raw performance — and the two rarely share any screen time together. Ford brilliantly navigates between flashbacks as Susan’s present and storied past parallels in dissonant harmony with the tortuous and violent events in Edward’s book. The result ends with a final scene that will leave you white-knuckled and gasping with anxiety.
The complexities of the plot points of love, cruelty, revenge and redemption are sewn together flawlessly and Ford still manages to add biting humor, particularly with Michael Shannon’s unfiltered character, taking subversive jabs at the industry and high-society figures he designs for.
The first images of the movie are nude overweight women dancing through a fog of confetti and wearing marching band garb with pom-poms in hand — a sight that is difficult to watch, because it feels like something that we’re not supposed to be watching. What that has to do with the film, I have no idea, but perhaps that’s just a guessing game that Ford plays, a game he likes to play with many of his artistic choices – a game the audience is not actually supposed to win. Marrying the erotic thrills style of Brian De Palma and the sumptuous, striking visual storytelling of Nicolas Winding Refn, Ford’s growth as a filmmaker is bolstered with the unexpected greatness of Nocturnal Animals.
Running time: 115 minutes
Dino-Ray Ramos watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Dino-Ray Ramos | Staff Writer