Designer-come-director Tom Ford’s devastating and dark second feature Nocturnal Animals is a world away from his prior glory as Gucci designer and fashion darling. The clever noir film shocks to the core, inexorably tearing your heart from opening titles to end credits. In sum, it’s a psychological nightmare that is almost unbearable but utterly experiential – and award-worthy.
Ford’s gripping tale of revenge is an inspired adaptation of thriller novel Tony And Susan by Austin Wright, masterfully crafted into an emotionally charged intricate twist of multiple narratives that are challengingly intertwined, having you question well beyond fade-out.
Ford intrigues as he strips bare the obdurate flawed human condition of primal masculinity to its raw and dangerous yet vulnerable form; a powerful contradiction of truth.
Jake Gyllenhaal in the dual lead as Tony, a relentlessly tortured family man, exudes an emotionally charged (and Oscar-worthy) performance amongst a supporting cast that is artfully directed, turning in chilling performances so realistic that you’ll never want to pursue a road trip through Texas! His character’s confrontation with a bunch of dehumanised rednecks has a hint of Deliverance; equally traumatic and disturbing. He was superb in Brokeback Mountain, but it’s this mesmerising, heart-wrenching anti-hero that deserves all the adulation the Academy can dish out.
Susan (Amy Adams) is Tony’s deeply unhappy ex-wife, suffering a loveless second marriage, abandoned in a vacuous gallery space that is less inviting than the ominous Texas outback – and that’s saying something. Susan undeniably epitomises everything her hateful, affluent socialite mother portrays (played superbly by Laura Linney). Memories of hopeful dreams abandoned become entrapped by the unforgiving cycle of family tradition, which leads Susan to break Tony’s heart, driving the motive in his unpublished novel.
When Susan reads the manuscript, intense flashbacks are triggered as she is reminded of the regrettable actions of her youth. As Susan continues to ponder the grotesque narrative, she envisions Tony as the true-to-life incongruous character of her past.
Parallel themes of painful revenge unfold through discovering the gruesome situation of fictional character Tony as he suffers the perverted malice of being stuck in the deserted Texan highway with beautiful wife (Isla Fisher) and doe-like daughter. Michael Shannon’s honest, gritty performance as the wayward but sympathetic Sheriff, typifies the tough Western Marlboro Man, giving the film a somewhat contemporary western feel and much needed nemesis to the unyielding villains.
Ford’s distinctive visual style is cinematically woven through stylish costumes and setting perfection, like Susan’s striking uber-postmodern abode.
In a realm of profit-mongering adaptations from Marvel and DC comic gluttony, it’s rewarding to be offered a style icon film-meister in the making. Ford’s directorial talent ensures that performances are not over-the-top, melodramatic clichés but rather imbued with the beauty and truth of a John Keats’ poetic paradox. Ford cautions the viewer that “money doesn’t insulate you from loneliness” – something he has probably learnt time and time again in the fashion game.
Tom Ford’s first stylish Oscar-nominated feature which subverted formulaic Hollywood ideals, A Single Man and now this unsettling thriller, exude a distinctive directorial brand like his former employer Largerfield’s couture collection: art, wonder and beauty.
Nocturnal Animals was deservedly awarded the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival. See it, and see why. Annette McCubbin
‘Nocturnal Animals’ is in cinemas November 10.