Screenplay and direction by Tom Ford: in Nocturnal Animals, he gives you his dose of a slick, bourgeois American story, where an art gallery curator wallows in the tragedy that is her loveless marriage to a high-flying business professional.
Amy Adams plays Susan to the hilt, deep red lipstick and all. If A Single Man is a distant memory – Ford’s foray behind the camera some seven-ish years ago – then Nocturnal Animals has the tonality, the colour and the texture of his earlier work. I couldn’t help but find commonalities in Colin Firth’s loneliness after the tragic loss of his partner in A Single Man and Adam’s constant aloneness, where she has no one but her memories and thoughts for company in this film.
This is essentially a movie within a movie. Been there done that? Barring the lack of novelty in the story, which essentially is an interplay between an unhappy rich married woman and her nostalgia of a lost love, and the within movie thriller of a man seeking revenge for the death of his loved ones, it’s the editing, the camerawork and the overall Tom Ford texture that makes the film stand out. The colours and the camera are slick and the thriller is bone chilling.
The film begins with Susan receiving a copy of a manuscript, written by her ex-husband Edward. We don’t know much about their past, but as Susan begins flipping the pages of this new book, her life unravels before us. The book titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ takes us on a road trip with a family of three. Jake Gyllenhaal plays both the protagonist in the book and Susan’s ex-husband Edward. Ford seamlessly creates, with some brilliant editing with support from Joan Sobel, the world of the book, Susan’s past, and her lonely and loveless present. The finest part of the editing is how Susan connects and reacts to everything that happens as she flips the pages of the book. The story of the book is chilling and dreadfully dark. I couldn’t help but notice that a few people around me were pretty much at the edge of their seats, as Susan delves deeper and deeper into the manuscript. Actor Michael Shannon, who plays the investigator/cop looking for the culprits of the murder of Gyllenhaal’s family (and other heinous crimes) in the book, is just brilliant playing cop Bobby Andes.
The revelation of Susan’s past is her seeming betrayal of her husband Edward, after she realizes that her upper class conservative mother was right, and a struggling writer does not make for a financially dependable husband. Susan tragically remembers what she gave up for her fancy, rich life, which has only brought her loneliness.
Through all the twists and turns that is Nocturnal Animals, the question I asked was if I really cared what happened to a wealthy white woman because of the life choices she made. For the brilliant work that Adams does (pretty much in everything she touches), the meticulous cinematography and nuanced score, and the textural choices that Ford makes, I wasn’t sure if I really cared about Susan or the characters in the book. I was chilled in my bones after what happened to them, but did I care? Unfortunate, but it doesn’t take much for white privilege to put me off. But on a last note, I did admire the brazen genius with which Ford opens the film: a whole line up of overweight naked women dancing to an orchestra.
Nocturnal Animals is now playing in theatres.