Tom Ford has dazzled us all with his career. From exiting a reformed Gucci to making his own successful clothing brand: Tom Ford, the fashion mogul has recently been shifting into film. His first directorial effort was the critically acclaimed A Single Man, he now debuts his second feature, Nocturnal Animals with a much higher ambition and giving us much more hope for his feature endeavors.
Nocturnal Animals starts out examining the life of Susan (Amy Adams) a gallery director in LA who lives a luxurious yet depressed life; her interaction with her second husband (played by Armie Hammer) is cold and lacks any emotion. One day she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Ed (Jake Gyllenhaal) of a book he’s recently completed. The film then shifts into the book and we see it play out with Gyllenhaal playing the father of a family as they take a road trip through West Texas; their vacation however takes a wrong turn as they mix with some dodgy drivers on the road (the leader whom is played by Aaron Taylor Johnson). We switch back and forth from Susan’s life to the book, and a few flashbacks of Susan and Ed’s life are sprinkled in between.
As expected, Ford’s film is visually stunning with a great attention paid to the detail and design of everything from costume, to set, and even the editing. However, in terms of narrative I feel that Ford stumbled a bit too much. One of the strengths of this film is the incredible allure of the manuscript’s story, and Ford is smart enough to occupy this part of the film throughout most of the running time, however, because he jumps to Susan frequently we never really get to dig into any of the two stories; they both end up being too superficial and the characters remain underwritten. The film would have maybe worked better if both stories had been divorced from each other, having each be its own movie, otherwise we simply get a peek at what could have been. I also feel that Ford sometimes falls into very silly narrative clichés like having a character read a card aloud in order for the audience to absorb it, or having over-expository dialogue to give a quick background to someone, something lazy that could have been infused more subtly.
However, Ford has a great advantage in this film: his cast. Much like in A Single Man, Ford is able to pull out amazing performances from an A-list cast, which apart from Adams, and Gyllenhaal, also includes Michael Shannon as the detective in Ed’s story and a cameo from Laura Linney as Susan’s mother. Adams and Gyllenhaal manage to spin their shallow characters into incredibly compelling portrayals of depression, loss, and rage; both are certainly at their prime of their career. The only problem in the cast might be Aaron Taylor Johnson, who’s portrayal of the main villain goes a bit off the rails with the maniac manner in which he spews lines.
Nevertheless do not be discouraged; the narrative ambition of this film will hopefully inspire Ford to continue his progress into the film industry. Nocturnal Animals is not a perfect movie, but there are some great flares of Ford’s developing style and amazing performances from the leads; Nocturnal Animals is a testament for the rise of a new auteur.