Like falling into a well filled with tailored suits, Tom Ford’s latest film, Nocturnal Animals, is a shocking but wonderfully immersive experience. An adaptation of American author Austin Wright´s 1993 novel, Tony and Susan, Nocturnal Animals tells the story of the eponymous characters’ tumultuous relationship. To do so, multitalented director/fashion designer Ford has transferred his skills from clobber to screen, deftly weaving a complex narrative from a series of interrelated strands.
The result is a smooth and sophisticated drama able to convey a complex plot without losing pace, or the attention of its viewers. In a nutshell: protagonist Susan (Amy Adams), an uber-rich and successful gallery owner living in LA, is sent the manuscript for an unfinished novel written by her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). As she reads, the film moves between her world and that of the unfolding novel, merging the two to create an uneasy tension between fiction and reality. Every time we plunge into the nightmarish manuscript, we are instantly entangled in the characters’ struggles as if their world were our own.
This transition is made easier by the parallels Ford draws between characters inside and outside the book. Jake Gyllenhaal plays both the novelist, Edward, and the novel’s central character, Tony. Gyllenhaal’s performance is exquisite, convincingly switching from distraught and terrified father, to young struggling writer. As is Amy Adams’s, as the troubled and conflicted Susan, trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s turning into her own mother (whom she hates).
But Michael Shannon’s steely, takes-zero-shit detective, Bobby Andes, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s psychotic criminal, Ray Marcus, steal the show. It is thanks to these two that a run-of-the-mill, cross-country road trip is transformed into a downward spiral of deadly conflict – one that pits rich against poor, men against women, justice against good old-fashioned revenge.
This a tremendous slap-in-the-face of a film, in which the slap is followed indefinitely by a kiss, slap, kiss, slap, smudging the ruby red lipstick mark into your cheek.
Upon leaving the cinema, one can’t help but feel torn between running home to bed, and wanting to go back for a second viewing.