Today marks the first in the two part series of Amy Adams appreciation fortnight. The much anticipated Arrival, well, arrives in theatres at the weekend, but before the actress dons her sci-fi hat, audiences first get to see her in Tom Ford’s second directorial effort Nocturnal Animals, seven years after his debut success A Single Man. Would the film, based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony And Susan, be another home run by the fashion designer turned filmmaker?
Nocturnal Animals tells a dark multi-timeline tale of love, loss and revenge focused around Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a successful yet emotionally unsatisfied art gallery owner who is forced to confront memories and demons from her past when she reads an unpublished novel manuscript sent to her by her writer ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The narrative proceeds as an enactment of the novel’s story, a dark and sinister tale about a man (also played by Gyllenhaal) whose family life is ruined in the worst possible way, whilst intermittently giving glimpses of both Susan’s past and present life. The deeper these three narratives are explored, the more evident it becomes that Edward’s violent story is both a message and a metaphor related to past events between the two lovers, and though the first twenty minutes or so verge on delving in to a ‘white people problems’ adventure because of the rich and vacuous world that is presented, once the threads of the stories combine and connections are made, there definitely is something deeper and much more disturbing to comprehend.
With Tom Ford in creative control, the film was always going to be designed to within an inch of its life, and there is no doubt that Nocturnal Animals presents a precise aesthetic in which every single inch of every single frame is intentional and full of purpose. The cinematography is as sharp and at times as cold as the events occurring on screen, and though you can certainly see the quality of the craft, in my opinion the visual perfectionism of the picture leads to a feeling of slight narrative detachment for the viewer. Much like the way that one experiences a piece of art, I at times found myself as an outsider looking in rather being completely invested in the narrative, and although the intertwining plots are filled with enough drama to satisfy any cinema lover, there is just that lingering feeling of stylistic distance that proves to keep the film at arm’s length. It is by no means bad, it is rather good in fact, though good doesn’t seem to be an appropriate word seeing as much of the subject matter is rather harrowing, with one significant set piece in particular being a markedly gruelling viewing experience.
As Susan Morrow, Amy Adams gives an excellent performance, especially with her eyes, as much of her work is less physical and more internal with many reaction shots of her novel reading being integral to the continuing vibe of the film. Adams is, in my opinion, one of the greatest actresses of her generation yet to win an Oscar, and though I don’t predict that this role is quite stand out enough to seal her the prize, it is no doubt another impressive entry in her filmography. Jake Gyllenhaal does a fine job of playing two separate roles, expertly allaying any fears of doppelgänger narrative confusion by embodying two very different personas for Edward and Tony respectively, which is perhaps harder than one would think and takes more than a simple change of hair style of trim of beard. Some great supporting performances are given by the likes of Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Isla Fisher who all bring a lot of life to their characters. The cast overall is a stellar one, with Adams especially keeping the audience engaged even when the plot might feel a little detached. Taylor-Johnson too, gives a performance that, though not likeable in any way, shape or form, captures the audience in a hauntingly enigmatic way. His eyes burn through the screen.
Overall, Nocturnal Animals is an expertly executed film from a technical point of view, but in Tom Ford’s tendency for perfectionism, there is some much needed grit missing from the dark and sinister plot that really would have elevated it to another level in terms of audience impact. There are certainly some twists and turns to be enjoyed along the way, and the tense atmosphere is one that will keep you feeling as uncomfortable as some of the events occurring on screen, but personally I come away from the picture with a comparable opinion to watching a fashion show or witnessing an art installation. You enjoy it as it is happening, perhaps you are enamoured, perhaps you are hypnotised, perhaps you are shocked, but ultimately the memories are not long lasting and the impact of the experience is soon forgotten.