Tom Ford may be most well-known for his fashion designs and being mentioned in hip hop gems, but he has spent the last few years working on being a director. Ford’s second directorial effort is an adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel ‘Tony and Susan’ which Ford titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’. This is an attempt by Ford to prove that his debut film ‘A Single Man’ wasn’t a fluke and the he genuinely has the chops to make award-worthy films.
‘Nocturnal Animals’ follows Susan Morrow (Amy Hastings), an art gallery owner who receives a copy of her ex-husband’s novel in the mail and her dealing with the possible implications of its content. Jake Gyllenhaal plays her ex-husband Edward Sheffield as well as Tony Hastings, the main character in his novel. Ford utilizes an unusual narrative structure as we bounce from both present day and the past in the real world and then cut to the story of Edward’s novel playing out on screen.
This unusual structure could easily be distracting or difficult to follow and requires a skilled director to guide performances and editing in order to make it all work. Thankfully, Ford finds his stride part way through the first act which doesn’t leave the audience dealing with too much disorientation. If you have concerns in the beginning of this film that it’s clunky or unfocused, stick around. I promise things look up. Ford finding his stride is a blessing as he would have otherwise wasted fantastic performances from both Adams and Gyllenhaal as well as Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson believe it or not. Taylor-Johnson is the most concerning piece he as he has certainly delivered great performances but has often fallen flat as well. He absolutely shines as a backwoods criminal who terrorizes Tony Hastings as well as his wife and daughter, played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber respectively.
Michael Shannon plays a hardened police detective, Bobby Andes, who is attempting to bring the criminals who terrorized Tony and his family to justice. Shannon and Gyllenhaal play off of one another brilliantly and ensure the audience is invested in the story of the novel as it plays out. This level of performance isn’t lost when we caught to real life as Adams delivers her second best performance of the year to ‘Arrival’ in this film. Cutting back and forth from past to present day gives Adams the chance to play Susan in two disparate points of her life. The younger being a hopefully ambitious student and the older being a successful if not lost artist with yet another failing marriage. The latter of these scenes call for a more subtle performance until we see Susan reacting to her husband’s novel, which could be seen as a threat to her safety.
The visual tone of this film both does and does not match what one would expect at all from someone like Tom Ford. The real life events feature modern architecture, high fashion and all of the luxurious decadence that Ford’s name brings to mind while the novel’s events feel like a gritty western both in color and framing throughout. This was the most shocking element of this film to me in the best way possible.
‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a film that slowly pulled me in and made me fall in love with it at the same pace Ford figured out the film he was making. A fashion designer probably shouldn’t be able to pull such stellar performances from both proven and uneven actors, frame something so visually beautiful all balancing an unconventional structure but that’s exactly what Ford has proven he is capable of. I can’t recommend this enough for anyone who appreciates great acting, crime and drama or just ‘A Single Man’ on its own. See this as soon as you can.