★★★★★ – Tom Ford’s sophomore movie confirms his status as a visionary and instantly identifiable director, with this relentless and stunning tale of revenge.
Whenever a public figure attempts to succeed in a field other than their own, eyes roll in derisive union among the public, and most definitely among the press. When Tom Ford released his directorial debut in 2009, A Single Man, it came as a pleasant surprise when the film was largely well received, by fans and press alike. But that was just a warm up for the main event – Nocturnal Animals, a tale of lost love, tragedy and revenge.
Amy Adams stars as Susan, a successful-on-the-surface art gallery owner living in Los Angeles with her rich and debonair second husband, played by Armie Hammer. Despite the luxury Susan lives in, she is hopelessly desolate, stuck in a loveless marriage with a career she is too jaded to appreciate.
Out of the blue her first husband, Edward, who’s heart she broke many years ago, sends her the manuscript for his novel, Nocturnal Animals. As she reads it, the tale plays out on-screen, with Edward’s Jake Gyllenhaal playing his own creation, the novel’s protagonist, Tony. This gives us one of the movie’s many triumphs of cinematography. It deftly weaves between past and present, fiction and reality, until I was lost as to what was real and what wasn’t.
Like his debut film, this is beautifully shot. So stunning in fact that at some points it feels as though you’re watching an advertisement; the colour red is used so significantly that, in what should be a heartbreaking scene, a simple red sofa elevates it to new heights of tragic beauty. If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. To explain it is not to fully convey the masterful way Ford constructs his vision. Even if the story was lacking (which it isn’t), the visuals would still warrant it as a must-see.
The plot, adapted for the screen by Ford from the 1993 novel Tony and Susan, makes for gripping viewing. As in, it literally grips you hard and fast, tightening its vice-like grasp, leaving you breathlessly fearful until the very end. The tension never quite breaks, save for a tiny handful of moments close to humour, themselves laden with irony.
The one moment of contention I have with this movie comes at the beginning, which feels unnecessarily brash, but it’s forgivable because the rest of it is just so damn good. Worth mentioning is Laura Linney’s short but scene-stealing moment as Susan’s Texan mother, where she dominates the screen and expels an atmosphere so uncomfortable, so on the nose, you’ll no doubt cringe as you imagine your own mother’s expectations bearing down on you.
Run, don’t walk, to the cinema to see this. This is not a good film for a fashion designer-turned-director. This is a near flawless piece of work combining the best elements of drama, crime and thriller iconography, resulting in a visual feast that will stay with you long after the credit’s roll.
Nocturnal Animals is in cinemas now
– Thomas Marrington