The most surprising thing about director Tom Ford isn’t really that he’s a fashion designer who made the transition to film, but rather that he’s waited seven years to follow up his marvelous debut, A Single Man. Featuring a devastating performance from Colin Firth, A Single Man received some great reviews and opened up the path for Ford to continue making movies. Seven years later and that time has finally come, so how does Ford follow-up his quiet, heartbreaking tale of a man on the final day of his life?
With a sexy, stylish, and mind-bending thriller, of course.
A well-off art gallery owner, Susan Moore (Amy Adams still continuing a hot streak) lives a life of luxury on the surface, but look any deeper and you find an unfaithful husband (Armie Hammer) and severe issues of depression and anxiety rooting from her past. To further deflate her tires, a book arrives from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) that opens up more old wounds as it’s not only dedicated to her, but also is named after his nickname for her (Nocturnal Animals) and tells a story that she slowly begins to relate to.
Up until this point, Nocturnal Animals appears pretty conventional. We expect Susan to reminisce about her past, come to terms with her lifestyle and eventually make her way back to Edward, but then she starts to read the book and the film transforms into a Hell or High Water-esque revenge story.
Telling the story of Tony, a happy family man, (Gyllenhaal again) Edward’s Nocturnal Animals is a grim and violent juxtaposition to Ford’s. As Tony and his wife and kid are heading out on a road trip through Texas, they encounter a group of thugs along the highway late at night who proceed to terrify the family in what is probably the most harrowing scene of the year.
What follows is Tony’s attempts to get justice—or revenge depending on how you look at it—for the incident as he teams up with detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) who works with him over the years to bring the men to justice.
So on one level we have Ford showing a stark emotional change in Susan as memories and feelings come flooding back to her while reading the book, while on another we see, in a highly metaphorical way, what happened to her relationship with Edward and his raw feelings about their separation.
This is by no means a casual film that will answer every question and guide you to its conclusion. Ford, who adapted the film from the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, has no intentions of making the film clear. Nothing is what it seems, and the final moments will be left up to the audience to decide the implications or lack thereof. Will this be enough to deter people from seeing this? Probably so; it requires a certain level of effort to engage the film on a deeper level than most movies. It is an art-house film camouflaged by all things pretty, even if there are some really engaging and scary moments that might make you think otherwise.
Once a grip is secured on the story, it’s really quite interesting to watch what exactly he is trying to do with his story, especially with so much of the backstory between Susan and Edward is pure implication. It shows the mark of a truly skilled director, and I certainly hope we don’t have to wait another seven years for Ford to resurface.
If you’re looking for something sexy and stylish that is also easy to follow, Nocturnal Animals is not for you. But if you really give it a chance, you’ll find a film dense with superb acting, a twisting script, and Ford’s keen eye for detail. Sure it makes you think and question what you just saw–and that’s how you know it succeeded.