It’s been seven years since fashion designer extraordinaire Tom Ford showcased his filmmaking talents with A Single Man, and now he has followed it up with the debatably even more brilliant Nocturnal Animals, managing to cleverly adapt the tricky 1993 novel Tony and Susan into something suited to the film medium.
Susan (Amy Adams) is the classic immensely-wealthy-yet-hopelessly-depressed character, whose lush and pristine art exhibitionist life is slightly disrupted when she receives a manuscript from her English professor ex-husband, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal). This novel is titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ and we see it being played out, with its main character Edward (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Isla Fisher) and their daughter being harassed by some young threatening hooligans on a long lonely stretch of night-time road. Stories within stories (or stories within films) can sometimes feel flimsy when compared to the framing narrative surrounding them, but this story here is incredibly intense and uncompromising when it comes to the escalating brutish nature of the thugs, lead by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
Back in the real world, Susan believes this horrific novel is making some sort of allusion to her past relationship with Tony and has been concocted as a violently cathartic piece of vengeance. The film juggles these two parallel narratives, along with one briefly observing the time when Susan and Tony were together, and thankfully gives the audience the right amount of clarity and ambiguity so they can come to their own opinions on what Tony has done.
Amy Adams is impressive as she does a lot with little, making her performance more nuanced and suited to close-ups to capture her range of emotions through her face alone. Jake Gyllenhaal is more expressive as Edward, whose meek English professor character tries his best to get a handle on the horrific circumstance he and his family are placed in. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is very much unrecognisable as the scummy and totally immoral villain, who greatly contributes to a lot of the tension in the Nocturnal Animals segments, and Michael Shannon also later appears as the grizzled Detective Bobby who’s adamant more than anyone else in getting revenge.
Tom Ford has done a stunning job in crafting a film that exceeds in excellence in more than one way – it’s not only stylish and lovely-looking to boot (without getting too distracting), it’s a tense heart-pounding road-side thriller, it’s a thoughtful look at the relation between art and reality, and it’s one of the more subtler, yet satisfying portrayals of a disintegrated relationship in recent years.