Nocturnal Animals full movie review - Unsettling sleep
This is my review of Nocturnal Animals (spoiler free)
SEVEN YEARS AGO former Gucci fashion designer turned writer/director Tom Ford graced the world with his powerful debut A Single Man a film which focused on the life of a troubled college teacher who lost his lover, a powerful debut that generously granted it's lead actor, Colin Firth with an Oscar nomination. They say that if you wait for a lengthy period of time with a beaded breath you will be rewarded with a miracle, well look no further as Ford's, latest and only his second feature Nocturnal Animals is a powerfully impressive and dark story, with impacting yet troubled characters and tour de force performances by the lead actors. Though style is an attribute this story does well and although it may be dark and have moments of being a heavily immersive film noir, with it's clever music style by composer Abel Korzeniowski and clever editing, this has a ton of style, it's fair to say that the seven years worth of waiting was worth it.
Lifted from the darkly engrossing pages of Austin Wright's 1993 meta-novel Tony & Susan and adapted by Ford's cleverly immersive screenplay, the story of the movie focuses on Susan ( Amy Adams) a cynical, unmotivated gallery-owner/artist who sees her art as junk culture is living an idyllic lifestyle in her modest rural home on the outskirts of Los Angeles, with her handsome second husband (Armie Hammer) though her life is marred by his constant traveling, she suspects that he is cheating on her. She has no motivation left in her life, so she receives a manuscript in the mail; this story named Nocturnal Animals by Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) her grad-school lover and ex-husband who had always dreamed of becoming a published author, but didn't have any particular style of writing except for about himself, however Susan had not seen him for 19 years so when she receives his story she is in a state of shock. So she starts reading his dark story about his life.
The novel's plot plays out on screen as Susan reads it ? Gyllenhall taking yet another dual role for the second time after Denis Villeneuve's psychological thriller Enemy, by playing the role of Tony the book's protagonist (authors write about themselves so we're told) a man who has been living happily with his wife (Isla Fisher) and his daughter (Elle Bamber) in the beautiful rural desert land of the state of Texas ? until he meets Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and their conversation is friendly at first but then he kidnaps the people the people Tony loves and ends up in a never ending and sometimes seemingly futile case, with Sheriff Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) and Tony goes into a desperate search for his wife and his daughter who went missing. He also plays the role of Edward the author of the powerful a man who was the grad-school lover and ex-husband of Susan - a man who dreamed of becoming a big-time published author but never found the right motives the two were a match made in heaven for a little while. Until she sees that life may not be right with him.
Ford's transitions between in and out of the fictional narrative ? and back and fourth between Susan's current life and the life he once shared with Edward ? are wonderfully adept, as it adds some more style to the already seemingly endlessly stylish story; all the strands wrapping neatly around the body of the thesis like a well-tailored suit, as Ford did once design and tailor Daniel Craig's elegant three-piece Gucci suit for 2005s Casino Royale.
While Tony is in a desperate yet sometimes futile search for the people who went missing from his life with the Sheriff, Susan is spending night after night reading Edward's powerful novel which has quite the hold on her as she is seen almost crying at it, she even tries to meet him at some point. While this story is going on the film also shows the life of Susan before she was a best-selling artist and Edward before he was a powerful author, as two young lovers just after grad school as they always agree with each other, or so it seems. Susan is actually starting to regret leaving Edward as she feels empty without him and she misses him dearly. Tony tries so hard to end the search and find a valuable source for the never ending case and as he finds one source he tries to find the leader, but he doesn't seem to remember until he is threatened with a loaded fire arm.
The cast is impressive and there are some delightfully brilliant single scene turns from Michael Sheen, Laura Linney and Andrea Riseborough. However, some might find the premise of the film to be heartless or cold, but that assumption misses the point. The strong storytelling demands empathy not sympathy and, like Susan, a lot of us have all made severely bad choices. So what if her seemingly lonely fate doesn't bring a tear to the eye? Maybe it isn't meant to. Much like the art that Susan peddles, this is a piece of junk culture with an unapologetic pulp filling, that's masterfully and stylishly formed by Ford and expertly framed by brilliant cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. It's fair to say that this type of film is an intricate fit for Ford so just sit back and enjoy the ride, as best you can.
VERDICT: An intense and stylishly exhilarating thriller, that's at some points unsettling. Ford's second feature is filled with immersive characters, a brilliant story within a story and tour de force performances ? it was worth the long seven year wait.