2016. Directed by Tom Ford.
The end of a relationship is an idea that is often equated with death. It’s a theme that has pervaded the film industry for years, offering a plethora of various interpretations in which the aftermath of amorous annihilation has been deconstructed to the point of excess. Tom Ford’s second directorial effort, Nocturnal Animals, abandons any sense of convenience and presents the concept as a blistering crime story that doubles as a warning about betrayal, both of the partner and of the self. Ford’s extremely mature marital fable is an assault by cinema, an unforgettable revenge story in which love doesn’t conquer all, it kills every transgressor with calculated malice.
Beginning with the an unforgettable credits sequence, the film puts the viewer into a complex stranglehold and never relents. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is the perfect companion to Ford’s unique vision. Hideous beauty, both in the human subjects and the landscape is always on display, with dark clouds hanging over blood red meridians, harshly removed from the violence that fills the sun baked highways beneath. The fictional world is offset by sterile art galleries and empty houses, devoid of the extremes within the novel at the center of the narrative. The thundering catharsis of the crime story is rationed by Mike Austin’s editing, seamlessly transporting the viewer between the forlorn desert of the mind and the coldness of reality. The story within the story is presented as imagery conjured by Amy Adams’s character’s subconscious and no supposition is needed to explain the physical representations therein. You know, with almost certainty where things are going and that precognition is a result of the extreme control Ford uses in every aspect of the film to bring everything to a perfectly malign conclusion.
Amy Adams does an adequate job with her character’s vulnerability, but Ford’s script reveals his continuing struggles with female characters. Her dialogue with Jake Gyllenhaal is stilted, almost pastiche, but the moments between, the physical cues, overcome this. Michael Shannon supports as the lawman in the crime portion, giving a tragic turn as the devil on your shoulder, representing the rage and despair of the abandoned lover. Gyllenhaal brings his underrated pathos to bear, but his segment is soft balled into the happenings with intent. His dual character is both a hopeless romantic and a scorned, but darkly motivated respondent. All of these remarkable performances are underscored by Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s beautiful monster. His performance is the definition of excellence in a supporting role, bringing an unhinged sexuality to an easily repugnant role. He doesn’t chew the scenery, he eviscerates it with stone cold glares and an intoxicating presence that oozes from his sweat soaked killer with ease.
Malanie Romero’s makeup design is flawless, and brilliantly understated. The characters are presented at different times in their lives and this is accentuated by subtle skin tones and intimidating mascara, bringing the eyes of each emotional combatant to the fore in every altercation. Donna O’Neal’s costume design encases each character in fabricated armor. Adams’s art gallerist is adorned in crystalline ensembles, perfectly equating her emotional weakness while the fictional characters are soiled and broken, caked in the dust of their predicaments, dutifully embodying an imagined world of natural recompense.
In theaters now, Nocturnal Animals is one of the best films of 2016. Ford’s glitzy reality may leave some viewers alienated, but the undeniable maturity of the content is what pushes it to greatness. An older, wiser, and less accusatory sibling to The Neon Demon, this is a film about the truths of self denial and the ultimate comeuppance for harming the ones we love. Featuring beautiful, but extremely unsettling imagery, Ford’s renowned compositions, and a one of a kind cast, this is a film that will haunt you long after it fades to black. If you’re looking for an anti feel good experience, that is devilishly liberating in its exploration of vendetta, Nocturnal Animals is the perfect choice.