Unexpectedly surreal, Nocturnal Animals tells a conventional story in an unconventional way; weaving together three stories to explore the relationship between Amy Adams art dealer Susan and Jake Gyllenhaal’s writer Edward.
Following from the terrific debut of A Single Man, Tom Fords Nocturnal Animals opens with a striking and visually compelling sequence which may fool you into a sense of wonder but it is soon followed by a continuous sense of unease and dread that underlies the following 2 hours. Adams and Gyllenhaal are excellent at portraying two people caught in an agonising situation and, though their screen time together is sparse, we really feel the weight of their relationship and its toll both directly from Susan and indirectly from Edwards story that is sent to her. However, Ford creates a beauty in the despair; the cinematography and narrative structure serving to embellish what could be considered a simple story. This can sometimes work to its detriment; attempts to be a more highbrow, intellectual film can sometimes feel forced and unnecessary when we are being told a quintessentially conventional tale about human trial and morality. But don’t take this as Nocturnal Animals being style over substance, the emotional core of loss and love keeps you engaged even when the plot slows. Ford also blurs the lines between the interconnected stories, adding a sense of synchronicity and creating a universal tone of despair whilst keeping us focused on every shot looking for specific details. The ambiguous end to the film adds to this despair but may leave you underwhelmed in its abruptness. Filling in the holes of the film, supporting actors Aaron Taylor Johnson and Michael Shannon stand out with two polar roles that are equally chilling and comedic; offering possibly their best performances to date that make even a tale within a tale brim with suspense and anticipation.
A meticulously designed and honed film, Nocturnal Animals offers strong performances and beautiful cinematography but unfortunately the overall product isn’t as strong as the sum of its parts due to an inflated sense of self-importance.