Nocturnal Animals

by Toby Woollaston

naAt this years Venice Film Festival American director and fashion designer Tom Ford said of cinema— “You need to think about it. Things can be entertaining, but if you leave the theater and it doesn’t stay with you, doesn’t haunt you, doesn’t challenge you, then it’s not successful, for me. So I hope to make films that make one think.” Despite the recent buzz about Amy Adams, I found myself more excited to see her latest film, Nocturnal Animals, because I wanted to be “haunted” by Ford’s latest foray into cinema.

Ford (A Single Man) not only directed but also wrote the screenplay which is based on the 1993 novel, Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright. Ostensibly Nocturnal Animals is a tale of revenge. Susan (Amy Adams) is struggling to find life fulfilment between her failing marriage to Hutton (Armie Hammer) and her vacuous role as an art dealer. While Hutton is away on a business trip she receives a manuscript from her estranged ex-husband of almost twenty years, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), and begins to read it. The book tells the story of a family on holiday in west Texas who are run off the road by a gang of red-necks, leading to further harrowing consequences. As Susan reads the unpublished book it appears increasingly clear to her that the story is an allegory of her relationship with Edward. Her past comes back to haunt her as she starts to question her own life, her current marriage, and her cynical reasons for leaving Edward.

The film plays out using a story-within-story structure comprising of three strands — current day Susan, the story from the manuscript, and flashbacks to her early relationship with Edward. While this structure is nothing new to cinema, Ford does a masterful job of balancing the three storylines transitioning between them with depth and ferocity and often allowing them to bleed into one another. True to Ford’s craft as a designer, his attention to detail is crystal clear and nothing is placed by accident. Every little moment suggests meaning, right down to the vengeful paper cut Susan sustains while opening up Edward’s manuscript for the first time. This cinematic perfection is a delight to watch. Ironically, perfection is perhaps its only fault, leaving the film ever so slightly devoid of warmth. Although I think this is Ford’s intention … as the saying goes, revenge is a dish best served cold.

Rating: 5 stars