By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Writers and other artists have various purposes and agendas for their works. Typically, these messages are very personal and reflect ideals or emotions felt due to past experiences or trauma in their lives. The new movie by writer/director Tom Ford (A Single Man) tells an intriguing and captivating tale about an author who seeks vengeance through his first successful novel. With beautifully-inspired direction by Tom Ford, and superb performances by the cast, Nocturnal Animals is an exceptional film that takes its audience through the novel and how it reflects the inspirations for its emotional and horrific content.
Amy Adams stars as Susan Morrow, a wealthy, but unhappy art gallery owner struggling to keep both her gallery open and her troubled marriage alive. Susan, unexpectedly, receives a package from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), a once unsuccessful and unpublished author who has finally written his masterpiece. The package contains Edward’s manuscript to said masterpiece, which is about to get published and hit stores worldwide. With her current husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) away on business, and with the worries of her career and marriage in mind, Susan is unable to sleep and decides to crack open the manuscript. Susan finds the novel instantly absorbing and finds herself unable to put it down. As she continues to read through it, she flashes back to both the fond and disenchanted memories of her marriage to Edward, and comes to the realization that their troubled relationship is the chief inspiration for the novel.
Based on Austin Wright’s acclaimed novel Tony and Susan, Tom Ford’s adaptation is an affair that is both gorgeous and disturbingly visceral. Ford, who not only works as a filmmaker, but also a fashion designer, has a wonderful talent for composing and capturing gorgeous images. Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does an excellent job capturing both the gorgeous and visually striking imagery of Susan Morrow’s world and the gritty and nasty imagery of Edward’s story. Tom Ford’s aesthetic and stylistic inspirations obviously come from Hitchcock, De Palma, and Kubrick, and this movie plays out like the gorgeous offspring of the these film legends, created with their DNA in a mad film laboratory with Ford as the mad genius behind it.
Wright and Ford have written and developed dual stories that are both relatable, disturbing and sometimes nightmarish. The story and characters are charming and poignant in the happier moments of the stories, but turn ugly and disdainful in the appropriate ones. Both stories serve as allegories of human narcissism and cowardice and they both work hand-in-hand toward the movie’s bleak ending. My only complaint might be that the movie ends on an abrupt and somewhat anticlimactic note. Still, the journey there is truly amazing and mesmerizing.
Ford and casting director Francine Maisler have assembled a phenomenal cast that, in addition to the actors mentioned above, includes Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Karl Glusman, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen. The two stars of the film, Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal offer stupendous performances. Adams, hot off the critical success of Arrival, offers another performance which could possibly get her even more attention at film awards. This performance is even more melancholic and introspective than that of her turn in Arrival, but is just as emotional. Gyllenhaal gives it his all in the dual roles of Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings, the protagonist of Edward’s novel. The characters are appropriately similar, but as Tony, Gyllenhaal gets to show more range and emotions. The author Edward Sheffield comes across as more introverted and restrained, but pained nevertheless.
And that is the overall theme of the film–pain. Life can give us pain and how we use it dictates the direction of our lives. For author Edward Sheffield, he uses the pain inflicted on him by his ex-wife for inspiration of his art and in turn, uses the art as revenge. As one can already tell, Nocturnal Animals is not cheery and happy cinema fare, but not all great art is supposed to be. The end result can be both beautiful and cathartic nevertheless.