Nocturnal Animals- A review
Tom Ford hasn’t done a lot of films. This is only his second and it comes a full 7 years after the excellent debut of A Single Man. Without a history of comparable films and the fact that the director is a famous fashion designer, you’d expect the film to be visually stunning. And it certainly is. But it’s by no means the most striking aspects of the film. The film is excellently scripted (based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan) and weaves a story within a story. The fictional story is strongly linked to the main story despite being set in two completely different worlds. The main story is set in the world of high art and the society around it. With beautiful sets and fancy costumes, it looks like a photoshoot for a fashion magazine at times. Ford belongs to this world in reality, of course and he seems to be able to make fun of it. All the characters are unhappy but extremely motivated to seem successful. This story is supplemented (or perhaps overtaken) by a secondary story set in rural Texas about a murder and revenge. The Texas story is introduced into the main in the form of a novel manuscript given to the main character, Susan by her ex-husband who has dedicated it to her.
The film presents us with far from a romantic vision of the world. The sub-story is violent and tense yet manages to never become wholly hopeless or bleak. In terms of setting up tension and thrill, the first scene of the secondary story does this better than any film in recent memory (probably since No Country for Old Men). The film is not romantic but romanticism is a main theme of the film, as it is regularly referenced as a foil to the striving ambition of the main characters. This isn’t a particularly new topic and hence it could have been easy to fall into cliché but while the takes on the struggle between artist versus careerist aren’t new they’re also not boring or rehashed.
The script is excellent but so are the performances. Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent in a dual role (he doesn’t really seem to be in much bad films). Amy Adams and Michael Shannon (also extremely reliable indicators of the fact that a film will be good if they’re in it) are also quite good with Shannon especially being memorable as a Texas policeman with strong views on meting out justice.
Guilt and revenge are also main themes in the film. More explicitly in the secondary story but also present in the main as the manuscript itself can be thought of as a type of revenge act. Proving that you can be successful to people who doubted you is a common story in everything from rap music to classic literature but there’s a lot in this film that reminds the viewer of The Great Gatsby .
A Single Man could have been dismissed as a one-off success if one is particularly cynical but Nocturnal Animals is also an excellent film. It’d be hard to deny that Ford is a filmmaker of real quality and capable of being as important in the film world as he is in fashion.