After the promising style and substance of ‘A Single Man’, Tom Ford looks for confirmation of his talent as a filmmaker with ‘Nocturnal Animals’, a tale of regret, revenge, courage and cowardice, based on the novel ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright.
Susan, played by Amy Adams, is a modern art curator, who one day finds in the mail the manuscript to the novel ‘Nocturnal Animals’, written by her first husband Edward, with whom she broke up rather violently. As Susan reads the novel, which unfurls as the film progresses, and tells of Tony, an everyman whose holiday trip runs horribly awry, she ponders her past with Edward, and the unhappiness that fills her present days.
The film’s opening is everything you would hope from a fashion designer-turned-director, a hyper-stylized, purely visual entrance in the main character’s world, namely a posh gallery for modern art. The showpiece, which consisted of a trio of heavy-set women dancing while wearing little more than a marching band hat and a pair of pompons, holds nothing back, and leaves to the imagination about as much as the dancers’ state of dress.
Certainly a daring overture, an indication of Ford’s creativity, gall and talent for visual storytelling. In an ideal world, the style and originality of this very scene would have carried throughout the entire film. Sadly though, ours is an imperfect one, and the story from then on falls back on tropes and clichéd dialogue which in some parts feels ripped from your run-of-the-mill soap opera.
Not Ford’s directing, which is impressive yet again, but rather his writing disappoints this time around, mainly because of the weak frame narrative, which tends to impede and even halt the thrilling pace of Tony’s story. The jumps between stories are at times grating, while certain moments in which the two seem to overlap, mostly towards the end, count as high notes in the film, further illustrating this particular technique’s potential.
The final scene would have been an emotional climax worth remembering, even more so thanks to Amy Adams’ strong performance, had her story leading up that point not been disappointingly dull. Her character’s arc has as much movement as the dainty mobile in her home, and her scenes with both Hammer, who offers nothing of note, and especially Gyllenhaal lack resonance and, above all, chemistry.
On the supporting side, Aaron Taylor-Johnson received the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, a prize which, if ‘Nocturnal Animals’ was to win it, would have been better earned by Michael Shannon, who as usual brings to the screen his patented wry intensity. The jury however deemed Taylor-Johnson’s Ray, the main villain in Tony’s story and the very worst kind of hillbilly, worthy of such high praise. Yes, he offers an unhinged performance, but, and this seems to be a motif in this film, again lacks much depth, preferring to stay on the shallow end of murderous degenerates.
While ‘Nocturnal Animals’ does offer interesting ideas and the visual flair we've come to expect from Tom Ford, the second-time filmmaker has here hit his limits, sacrificing narrative cohesion for cinematic ambition, and nuance for easily drawn emotions.