Fashion icon Tom Ford enjoyed his first foray into filmmaking back in 2009 with A Single Man which was met with critical acclaim and awards glory. He’s back for his second feature with neo-noir thriller Nocturnal Animals, based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan. The plot centres around luxuriously successful LA art dealer Susan (Amy Adams) who, despite her extreme wealth, is unhappy with what and who she has become. When she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), she is led to reflect upon her life. Her ex’s bloody tale of violent revenge, which gives the movie its title, plays out as a film within a film, haunting her memories and dredging up her dark past.
The narrative splits into three incredibly stylish strands, like separate but complementary lines of a designer catalogue. Edward’s manuscript serves as a symbolic connection between the wistful look at Susan’s back-story and the cold reality of her present lifestyle. As you would expect from Tom Ford’s vision, everything on screen is immaculately presented, and Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography combines harmoniously with Abel Korzeniowski’s music to create a mesmerizing cinematic experience which pierces the fickleness of materialism like a knitting needle through thick cashmere.
Amy Adams portrays present day Susan protected by a glossy sheen, and as the plot thickens, her face mask is scrubbed off to reveal the damaged soul underneath the glitz and the glamour. It is clever casting as the natural beauty we know Adams possesses is disguised by the artificial splendour, and this helps to highlight the greatness of the multilayered display. Gyllenhaal is reliably impressive in what is perhaps the least meaty of the roles, and his overshadowed a little by his co-stars within his character’s novel. The performances from Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, as cop and criminal respectively, are fantastically over-the-top but as figures of fiction within fiction, they are no more theatrical than the brief turns from Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough as an eccentric fashion power couple…which is the point that Ford tries hard to get across.
At a swanky party scene, Susan questions why her life has panned out the way it has. She says ‘I have everything. I feel ungrateful not to be happy’. Her industry friend retorts that ‘no one really likes what they do’ and that ‘our world is a lot less painful than the real world’. In the current climate, this exchange has a striking resonation, and Tom Ford offers entertaining and indulgent escapism from this. Nocturnal Animals provides a gripping and highly attractive insight into his world through designer rose-tinted frames when even gruesome murder is made to look like an art installation.