Nocturnal Animals (2016) review: Stylish modern noir

Film

nocturnal-animals

Director:Tom Ford Writers: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (novel) Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

It’s hard to believe that ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is only the second directorial outing for fashion designer Tom Ford, seemingly already establishing himself as somewhat of an auteur. Producing, directing and writing the screenplay, Ford’s ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a dark, hallucinatory noir thriller which has already had a successful festival run, picking up the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival earlier this year.

Amy Adams is Susan, a rich LA art gallery owner with a magnificent house overlooking the glittering city, with an army of attentive staff and a handsome, successful husband, Walter (Armie Hammer). All is not well in Susan’s life however as she is finding herself increasingly dissatisfied with her life of material excess, and the absence of her travelling husband plays on her mind. As she wrestles with her own feelings of being trapped in a gilded cage, and battling with constant insomnia, a manuscript arrives at her door, from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book is entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ and has a letter accompanying it explaining that Edward would like Susan to be the first to read it, and has dedicated it to her. What follows is a masterful intertwining of Susan’s own struggles with her dissatisfaction, and insights into the book itself, interpreted through Susan’s own sleep-starved brain. The story that Edward presents to Susan is both violent and clearly a deeply personal tale of one night which changes a man’s life forever.

Falling somewhere between the nightmare worlds of David Lynch and the tangled thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ manages to feel both timelessly classic and ultra modern all at once. The cinematography is beautiful, the production design is breath-taking and it just looks stunning, and boy, am I a sucker for a good-looking film!

The people  in Susan’s world are all beautiful too, all high-gloss, ultra-coiffed and in clothes that probably cost more than most of us make in a year. You can imagine everyone smells like lilies and cedarwood, as they waft through the glass corridors of their lives. Indeed marble and glass abound, with not one mote of dust present anywhere.

Meanwhile in the fictional world, which I’ll call Edward’s world, life is much harder. Set largely in the desert, Edward’s world is dry and dusty, filled with blood, sweat and tragedy. Cars are battered, people are fallible and life is cruel. From the opening sequence Ford makes a clear statement about the real value of art and materialism, with naked overweight women dancing with joyous gusto in front of a glittery backdrop (which we later discover is part of Susan’s latest exhibition) and this theme is followed up throughout the film with the two contrasting worlds.

The cast are all fantastic. Amy Adams is perfect in the role of the seemingly fragile Susan, Jake Gyllenhaal shows incredible range in his dual role, but for me the star turn was from Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ray. Playing a suitably cartoonish fictional villain, as filtered through Susan’s fatigued mind, Taylor-Johnson’s Ray provides an insight into Edward and Susan’s perceptions of the world, and is both oddly charming and terrifying. Isla Fisher too is terrific in her short screen time in the story within the story.

The soundtrack too deserves a mention as Abel Korzeniowski’s (who also provided the soundtrack for Ford’s first film ‘A Single Man’) score echoes the sense of both classic film making and the ultra-modern, with swathes of orchestral melodrama reminiscent of Bernard Hermann’s scores for Alfred Hitchcock.

While I was mesmerised by the psychological tension, beautiful visuals and grandious score it seems that ‘Nocturnal Animals’ won’t be for everyone, with two people walking out of the Friday night screening I attended, and another couple commenting as the credits rolled that they’d rather watch ‘Sausage Party’ again.

For my money though ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a beautifully made, deeply affecting and tense exploration of the breakdown of a relationship, and is worth going to see in the cinema to enjoy those visuals and that soundtrack to best effect.

8 out of 10

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