Tom Ford’s second venture into filmmaking is a visually striking and emotionally gripping psychological thriller, proving the success of his first film was no fluke. It delivers on every level to create an intoxicating experience that showcases the talents of all involved.
Based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, Nocturnal Animals effectively tells three stories by essentially interweaving two films. It centres around Amy Adams’ Susan who is sent the manuscript of the eponymous novel written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), and quickly becomes embroiled in reading it, simultaneously reflecting on her past relationship with her husband, shown through flashbacks. The parallels between the characters and emotions of the story and those of reality become increasingly apparent as the film progresses, all of which further emotionally involves the audience. As you follow the narrative of the novel’s story, it helps you to navigate the essentially purely emotional narrative playing out in Susan’s world.
The film grips you from its odd, striking opening credits, and doesn’t let up until the end. It quickly builds a thick tension that is sustained yet fluctuates perfectly as the audience is drawn in and out of the novel’s story. The novel’s opening sequence in particular injects a volt of fear and spills over with tension, a tension which doesn’t really let up until the final frame.
The film flits between its various narratives effectively, managing to juggle and balance the stories perfectly. Ford utilises this jumping between stories to create interesting visual cues (as you might expect from this master of fashion, the visuals are intoxicating) to convey the characters’ parallels and reflections. Frames from the two worlds fade in and out over one another, showing characters doing the same things at the same time, contrasting their lives in a visually arresting way. There is a stark contrast between warm colours of the Texan thriller and cooler palettes of Susan’s apartment, juxtaposing the emotions of the two narratives.
Every component of the film comes together in a dizzyingly stunning fashion. The two central performances from Adams and Gyllenhaal (in a double role) are incredibly transformative, a brilliant showcase of both actors’s talents (and further proof that they should both really have Oscars by now, but should at least garner nominations for this). They are supported superbly by a myriad of minor players. Ford coaxes brilliance from his cast with great control, and melds all of the elements together in a masterly fashion. This is all overlaid with an entrancing score that helps to sustain the atmosphere and keep you engrossed.
The striking opening sequence may not be for everyone, and the ending may not satisfy as a conclusion for some, but there is no doubt this is exquisitely compelling storytelling that juggles a complex structure, yet still provides an emotional and visual feast.