Director: Tom Ford
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson
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Supposedly the two best performances during 2016’s Oscar season were totally ignored by the Academy. Both were by Amy Adams. Everyone saw Arrival (and raved about it) when it came out. Now, as Nocturnal Animals arrives on subscription VOD, you can catch up with Adams’ other great performance. She plays Susan, a poised and seemingly perfect artist, gliding around both empty homes and busy galleries with a tortured glacial grace, her life seemingly calm on the surface, with turbulence buried beneath. That is, until a manuscript arrives from her ex-husband, Edward (Gyllenhaal), containing the first draft of a novel he has dedicated to her. As she pores over it, while her newer husband (Armie Hammer) is out of town, we see the story of the novel – a dark, sinister, messy and strangely mesmerising gothic thriller – play out on the screen before us.
It’s an interesting and bold pace change from Tom Ford, the man whose last movie also featured a statuesque redhead and some (of course) beautifully cut suits – there are far fewer mournful glances than A Single Man and far more guts and violence, as Edward’s protagonist, Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal), and his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter run into, then try to run from Ray Marcus (played with predatory menace by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his gang of desert goons.
Stylistically, Ford’s touch is familiar; as unsettling as much of the film is, Nocturnal Animals is very much built – fashion show-like – around a series of set pieces. The presentation that awaits Tony and the cops who hunt for his family echoes as much a twisted Vogue shoot as it does a classical painting. The house Susan slinks around echoes the sultry yet sinister styling of Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, offering a chic veneer hiding the darker side of Susan’s personality and story. And then there’s Susan’s art exhibit itself (causing considerable controversy when the film premiered), as Ford makes an effort to hold up a lens to American consumerism. Ford has admitted he ‘fell in love’ with the women he filmed for this opening sequence, but, naturally, doesn’t really address the role he plays in making them feel loveless, and their inclusion subsequently still jars, only serving to make the film’s plethora of references – noir road movies juxtaposed with the faded glamour of old Hollywood – more suffocating for those who find the director a tad heavy-handed.
For a story-within-a-story, though, Ford keeps the plot(s) simple – as he did with A Single Man – and lets some powerhouse performances bolster the piece, alongside Amy Adams’ languidly gripping star turn. Taylor-Johnson is sensationally ferocious, crackling with feral energy, while Michael Shannon’s detached yet similarly magnetic detective provides a worthy foil. It’s these performances that elevate the film above a series of set pieces designed to shock – likely what turned off the awards audiences – and make it a suitably gripping chapter in Ford’s likely long career as a conjuror of the surreal.
Nocturnal Animals is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription – with a 14-day free trial.
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