Directed By: Tom Ford
Cast: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher, Michael Shannon.
Review Author: Adam
Rating: 5/5 glasses of whiskey
This has been the single best piece of cinema I have seen in a very very long time, definitely this year anyway. When people say Tom Ford to me, I think scarves and sunglasses- not incredible parallels and superb storytelling. I was happily wrong. This film absolutely blew me away and I was lucky enough to attend the premiere of this one.
So the premise of this film is all rooted in revenge. Not the type where you chop someone up to ruin their live- but the psychological statement type; that leads to someone ruining their own life as a result. It’s dark, it’s smart, it’s grim at times and it’s an incredible display of the decay of a person’s life. The story goes that Susan, a successful art gallery owner receives a draft of a novel written by her ex-husband, whom she has not seen in since a very messy divorce that resulted in her leaving him for another man. The timing of the book arriving happens as her new marriage is at a sad tipping point with a cheating husband and her life is in a disenfranchised, LA, art gallery and pills haze.
Struggling to sleep, as usual, she decides to start reading the book. The book is dedicated to her, and she is flattered and a little apprehensive. A violent murder story where in a man’s family is kidnapped and killed and he is helpless to stop it. As it develops she begins to have flashbacks of their early life together and the eventual sad and messy decay of their relationship. The parallels become very clear between the events in the book and their life as she realises this is his revenge. This book and the story it tells is a dramatised acting out of the murder and death their relationship suffered by her hands.
Normally, when I sit down to watch someone attempt to create a ‘story in a story’ type of film it’s a bit hard to watch. A common mistake is to pace both of them wrongly, confuse the audience or over-explain the two worlds to avoid the confusion. Tom Ford made absolutely none of these mistakes- the book we see coming to life ‘Nocturnal Animals’ could be an astounding film by itself, but the way it dips in and out of the real world is absolutely flawless. The film lulls you into a sense of safety in making you think it’s a romantic gesture- but as the story develops you see the dark side of it, the revenge, the anger and the genius of this book and the man behind it.
At a visual level, this film is an absolute feast. There’s a lot of strong symbolism and subtle foreshadowing, but what really impressed me is the occurrence of certain objects from her flashbacks in the story she’s reading. It’s not in your face, it’s subtle- a couch they had a huge argument on appears in the book where the protagonist sees a horrible site. A car that they had a difficult conversation in drives by during parts of the book and the colours reflect this too! It’s smart. It doesn’t cry out for you to spot these details and expect praise, each scene would still work without these additions and still be incredible but it just pops them in and says nothing about it. I love that in a film.
I want to talk about tension now. I’m a fan of it in film. The best use of it I’ve ever seen is the final bar scene in The Drop (2013), which has just fallen to the second best tension scene ever. There is a road chase in this film that Edward loses his family in. The scene is nearly 15 minutes long and unbroken. Nothing inherently violent happens during this scene, it’s just a little encounter. And it’s fucking terrifying. As it unfolds and the situation starts to spiral out of control it makes you feel completely and shockingly helpless as an audience member. It completely drags you into this situation and holds you there until you would do anything to see the car drive away and for it to be over. I was on the edge of my seat for the entire thing and I’m not ashamed to say I was in a cold sweat by the time it ended.
The casting is superb- I’ve never been an enormous fan of Amy Adams but she really shines in this- she plays the age and the role incredibly well and works the turns of the story into her performance perfectly- your opinion of the character changes as both stories develop and she provides a depth that makes that very smooth and easy to handle as a viewer.
It’s a heavy film, a mix of The Drop and Calvary and very much along the same sort of stunned silence that those films leave you in as they end. Also, the trailer gives nothing away in terms of the story, I love that it’s a rare treat these days.
I cannot recommend this more if you’re looking for a film to sink your teeth into. It’s not a popcorn flick, you won’t sit back and relax for this one- you’re going to get involved and you’re going to go through a range of emotions. Like I said about The Girl On the Train, that’s why I love cinema- it brings you places in your head that you may not always want to go to. If you go to see this- pay careful attention to the background of the scenes, the mise en scene has it’s own story running through it beyond the dialogue and exposition.