Film Review: Nocturnal Animals

A shocking, beautiful, and constantly engaging tale of heartbreak and revenge.

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‘Nocturnal Animals’ is directed by Tom Ford, starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, and Armie Hammer. It’s a film that takes an exquisite look at betrayal, revenge, and the impact of our decisions on others; and our own happiness.

With a narrative style that is decidedly unconventional, the storytelling faced some potential pitfalls but, with just his second film, writer and director Tom Ford has established himself as a master of balance, pacing, and affectation.

The basic plot sees Susan (Amy Adams) running an art gallery and living in an unhappy marriage with Hutton (Armie Hammer). She’s taken aback when her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her a manuscript of a novel he has written and dedicated to her. She begins to read and soon, we see the fictional world and real world start to intertwine.

The first thing to say about ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is how stunning it is to feast your eyes on and meticulously it is designed and shot. It’s no surprise, considering Ford is also a fashion designer who has worked for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, but every shot is perfectly composed and infinitely interesting to look at, just like a good piece of art. No prop, costume, angle, colour, or slice of light is wasted here. This is explicitly established in the opening title sequence, which is perhaps best left undescribed.

A beautiful-looking film only goes so far on aesthetics though. Ultimately it needs to engage the viewer on another level. The narrative was where people might believe Ford would suffer but it seems he’s also an incredible writer. The delicate nature in which he was required to balance this kind of storytelling would have brought many undone, yet he was almost faultless. As stated, the pacing of the film is perfect. Every cut is made precisely when it needs to be, allowing the viewer just enough to digest without having anything shoved down their throat. Understanding the film comes gradually and naturally, and Ford never has to perform an expose for the audience. Rather he uses effective visual cues and the expertise of his actors. It’s the tone of the film that is so surprisingly well done. This is a brutal and intense drama that boils certain characters down to their base emotions, and us with them. However, it’s also a scathingly clever and at times funny movie. Somehow, these two opposing moods don’t block or intrude upon each other; yet another tick for Ford’s ability.

As for the actors, the film is led superbly by Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal with a fantastic turn by Michael Shannon. Amy Adams continues to sign onto great films and give suitably great performances. Her performance is magnificently understated and emotive at the same time. Jake Gyllenhaal is the perennial professional who never puts a foot wrong. Here he’s particularly good for a very important reason I won’t spoil but it’s with him we ride the biggest waves of shock, despair, and pain. Michael Shannon is just badass as a hard-as-nails country detective.

Underpinning, and tying together, all of this is a haunting and mournful score put together by Abel Korzeniowski. Often, you almost don’t notice it because it fits so well with what is happening on screen that it seems an organic piece of the drama.

All in all, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ can only be described as being crafted by someone with immense attention to detail and passion for their work. Tom Ford and co. have delivered one of the year’s best films and I would urgently encourage people to go see it.

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