After a seven year production process, fashion designer turned director Tom Ford brings his second feature film to the screen.
Nocturnal Animals stars the ever-present Amy Adams and equally prolific Jake Gyllenhaal. The unlikely pair are rarely on screen together in the film, yet they exhibit a natural chemistry and connection throughout.
Nocturnal Animals focuses primarily on art curator Susan (Amy Adams), unhappily remarried and restrained by the life she has chosen. It is told strictly from her perspective.
While cycling through her mail one morning, Susan comes across a manuscript written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book, titled Nocturnal Animals, is dedicated to Susan and leads her to question the decisions she has made in her life up to that point.
What follows is one of the most unique narrative structures on film in recent memory.
The film seamlessly intertwines the present, past, and fictional worlds. It opens with Susan in the present day and follows her into the fictional world created by Edward with his novel. Throughout her reading, Susan reflects back on important moments of her past. She sees her own relationship bleed through the pages, and Ford shows this by providing parallels between the world of the novel and Susan’s past with Edward.
Ford’s direction is nuanced and precise. He pays heavy attention to detail. Shot after shot, Ford is able to symbolize the plot of the film. The pace manages to remain steadily slow and treacherous without ever becoming bored. Ford, as the writer, constructs a highly original narrative that incorporates multiple metaphors. The film establishes Ford as a serious director and writer.
The cinematography, done by Seamus McGarvey, is equally as mesmerizing as the story itself. Each setting, whether real world or fictional, is differentiated through the cinematography. The shots are beautiful and represent the tone extremely well. McGarvey is able to support the characters’ emotions through tone and style.
Once again, Amy Adams takes the story into her own hands and presents another strong performance. Her natural sadness works well with the character she is portraying. It is Gyllenhaal, though, who steals the show. His performance is layered, as he portrays not one but two versions of the same character. He is sure to generate much-needed Oscar attention.
The supporting cast is nothing short of spectacular. Particularly, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) surprises with a phenomenal performance as one of the main antagonists within the fictional world of Edward’s book. He embodies Edward’s real-life demons and impresses with his unique portrayal. Likewise, Michael Shannon provides necessary comic relief as the cop helping Tony, the protagonist of the novel’s world.
Nocturnal Animals most prominently showcases the talents of its leads and its director. It shows the psychological impact of a failed relationship that may have been saved with a different approach or outlook. It suggests what could be or may have been. Suspenseful, gripping, and thought-provoking, Nocturnal Animals offers one of the best narratives on film in 2016.