Nobody gets away with what she did. Nobody.
Naked women dance, waving the stars and stripes with abandon, before lying dead on slabs. Cars weave around motorways like neurons firing in a brain, or blood travelling around the body. The simple light of a gas station dyes Jake Gyllenhaal a sumptuous shade of scarlet. It’s sexy, it’s alive, it’s raw.
It’s Tom Ford. And I like it.
Nocturnal Animals, designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford’s second feature film, was marketed as a revenge flick. A bitter ex-husband enacts his revenge on his former lover through a violent novel dedicated to her called ‘Nocturnal Animals’ – the nickname he had for her. It’s a film in three parts: art gallery owner Susan’s (Amy Adams) experience reading the novel gifted to her, the novel itself, and the relationship that once existed between Susan and ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal). All three narratives are beautifully intertwined, each given time to develop and prosper, and all defined by individual styles.
Susan’s book-reading plays like a faux-hedonistic Greek tragedy: glinting with metal statues of balloon dogs, glass walls and pornographic art exhibits, but achingly vulnerable beneath the glamour. Adams’ performance is subtle and intimate, bordering on claustrophobic. Her younger years, however, would feel more at home in a Christmas romance flick than in a thriller. Edward and Susan meet in a snowstorm before going to dinner and laughing over their meals like giddy lovers, revealing that they were each other’s first crushes. And, finally, Edward’s narrative is played on screen and offers a stark, gritty alternative to Susan’s synthetic world. The white and blue of her world switches to yellow Texas: a world of violence, revenge, and murder.
Despite being a construct within a construct, Edward’s story is no less riveting. In fact, it is the backbone of the film: offering the highest drama, some of the best performances, and an alluring veiled threat. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is on impeccable form as the relentless, sickening redneck Ray and offers a dynamic counterpart to Gyllenhaal’s true acting chops which emerge as protagonist Tony. Gyllenhaal is fascinating to watch. Tony’s weakness is beautifully realised and consistent.
Blink-and-you’ll-miss-them performances from Laura Linney, Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough are delightful.
It is Michael Shannon, however, who really stands out as the rough Texas cop Bobby. It’s particularly impressive that he manages to stand out considering there isn’t much of him to do so. He’s lost weight and his clothes hang off his bones as he stands, curved, squinting into the sun as he draws from a cigarette. He’s effortlessly magnetic. In his face, gaunt and hawkish, 42-year-old Shannon shows a man who’s spent a lifetime grappling with the law in a lawless town. A single line that offers a glimpse into this man’s past is captivating and infuriating.
Abel Korzeniowski’s haunting score ripples beneath the film and moments of cinematography are striking. It looks like an art exhibit, or a fashion show. It feels indulgent one moment and stark the next.
Ford’s electric revenge flick burrows under the skin, meshing three worlds together into a tense exploration of human relationships that, just like Edward, refuses to be let go.