Feel what you want about writer/director Tom Ford’s (A Single Man) films, the man can compose a shot as well as he could design a suit. As his Sophomore delivery to screen, Nocturnal Animals is rich, moody, and gripping as it weaves together three narratives of past, present, and fictional. It also garnered many nominations, though few wins.
The movie, as a whole, is an interesting piece of psychological noir and certainly an intriguing harbinger of what may come from Ford next. He doesn’t tackle easy stories, nor does he flinch from the darker sides of relationships and people. Mind you, he also always finds a way to dress pretty people well, but that is his world; it isn’t a huge surprise and it is always part of the story. Nocturnal Animals is worth your time, but expect to be wading through some seriously dark muck to get to the end. It is complicated and dark (did I mention that already?) and I really can’t discuss it without exposing it, so I have to stop here. Suffice to say that whatever you’ve seen in the trailers and heard in the ads isn’t even really what the film is about.
Driving the story, Amy Adams (Arrival) turns in yet another quiet, intense performance. She is a woman filled with regret and longing and we feel it all keenly. The focus of all that emotion is Jake Gyllenhaal (Demolition) in two roles: one real, one imagined. He pulls off both well.
Within the fictional world, Michael Shannon (Elvis & Nixon), nominated for an Oscar, provides us yet another Western law man with a history and an agenda. If I sound weary of these kinds of characters, I am. Much like the performances by Jeff Bridges and Tommy Lee Jones I recently discussed, despite being well done, there isn’t much new. To be fair, Shannon’s character is fictional, even within the movie, so some of the predictability is a feature of the structure. The role does allow Shannon to continue to add to the facets he puts on screen nicely, however.
Then there is Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron), who embodies a truly nasty character. Gone, utterly, is the sweet, well-meaning kid from Kick-Ass. Taylor-Johnson is a the metaphorical embodiment of evil and capriciousness. Again, his character is inflated by the conceit of the film, but he manages to make it feel disgustingly and terrifyingly real.
In a much smaller role, as Adam’s mother, Laura Linney (Genius) encapsulates an entire life and relationship in the space of a couple minutes. It is a wonderfully simple performance, but loaded with subtext. Without this short on-screen battle with Adams, the story would have been much weaker.
As a side-bar, I watched this as a self-made double-feature with Trolls. Can I recommend that for anyone else? Well, Trolls was a good pallet cleanser after this much darker tale. But, surprisingly, they do work together. Both films are stories of trying to define and find happiness. Yes, it is a bit of a stretch, but it was one of the more bizarre pairings I’ve ever tried and it only proves that almost anything can be put together and unexpected relationships will be exposed.