‘You can’t just walk away from things all the time…’
When Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals opened with the sight of a grotesquely overweight, naked woman, dancing provocatively, I felt a number of emotions. Mostly bewilderment. As the credits rolled I felt that same bewilderment. I was quite confused in the middle of the film. At times I felt beleaguered. I would say there were moments when I could have described myself as being discombobulated. I think, in short, there is probably a small chance that I didn’t totally ‘get’ Nocturnal Animals. I have been trying to unfurrow my brow for a while now but I am so deep in thought that I just can’t. I can’t unfurrow my brow. I just can’t.
Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow. A woman who seems to be desperately unhappy at all times despite the many, many benefits she has been handed in life. Armie Hammer plays her husband, rich, douchebag, sleazeball Hutton Murrow. He has very little to do and adds nothing to the story. Susan Morrow’s ex husband Edward Sheffield, played with wide eyed charm by Jake Gyllenhaal is a sensitive, romantic novelist. We know he is sensitive and romantic as this is referenced in the dialogue every five minutes. Susan Morrow receives a copy of Sheffield’s novel, dedicated to her and from this we get a film within a film. (SPOILERS AHEAD) In this tableau we have Tony Hastings wife and daughter being raped and murdered by Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s zany villain Ray Marcus. Helping Hastings solve the crime is Michael Shannon’s uncompromising detective Bobby. The fact it has taken me 140 words to write a simple summary of the plot is indicative of how dense and ambitious Nocturnal Animals is.
The acting is first rate throughout. Adams is convincingly lost and heartbroken, Gyllenhaal is perfect in portraying how powerless both of his characters are rendered and Shannon is at his imposing best. The biggest surprise is Taylor-Johnson, an actor who I must admit I have never been fond of. His haunting take on Ray Marcus is compelling and meandering and he shares a wonderful brooding chemistry with Gyllenhaal.
The score is dramatic and memorable, everything looks beautiful and the pacing between the two stories is perfect. There is a nagging feeling however that at least some of what we are seeing is pretentious nonsense. Anything that is framed by the absurdity of modern art should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt and there are times when it feels like director Tom Ford is being abstract for the sake of it.
Aside from that though, Nocturnal Animals draws from David Lynch to create something weird, unique and thrilling. It’s difficult to see why it was so overlooked at this years Oscars. A challenging but rewarding piece of art.