I purposefully limited my preparatory research into ‘Nocturnal Animals’, the neo-noir psychological thriller written, co-produced and directed by the masterly Tom Ford because I wanted it to surprise me on the first viewing. ‘A Single Man’ is one of my all-time favourites, despite the depressing nature of the story, so I don’t know why I went into this new feature expecting some frothy affair. There will be no spoilers to be had here but if you’re considering this as cutesy first date material you might want to secure your proverbial wig.
The basic premise of the film, based on a 1993 Austin Wright novel, is the following: Susan Morrows (Amy Adams) is an affluent yet troubled insomniac L.A. gallery owner/burgundy lip stain aficionado who receives a curious manuscript dedicated to her named ‘Nocturnal Animals’ written by her estranged ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Edward used to call Susan a nocturnal animal before their bad break-up 19 years prior, so her interest is quite piqued. Also, her new man is trifling and ditches on their plans so she has time to spare over the weekend. She reads through the entire book and it basically leaves her prostrate on her multimillion Santa Fe mansion floor, gasping for air and clutching at her natural pearls (but she wasn’t wearing any because they don’t go with her dark glam aesthetic, of course). Do you remember that ultra-black material scientists recently made from carbon nanotubes that absorbs all light? Well, the story in the manuscript he sent her is a smidge darker.
It goes without saying that everything is gorgeously shot, from the eerie sprawling plains of West Texas to the sterile gallery world. Ever the perfectionist, each detail has been painstakingly curated by Tom Ford - like the crossing out of the sender’s name on top of their customised stationery, the chicest indication that the note was personally sent - and the set plus costume design took my breath away every ten seconds. That I expected. But I did not foresee all the raw emotion and suspense which sent a cabal of nerves careening through my body like a self-driving Google car fuelled by uppers. One second you’re thinking “Yaaas Amy Adams, that over-the-shoulder colour-block fur look is leaving all your gallery minions gagging” and the next you’re digging your chewed-up nails through your neighbour’s arms with abandon.
The film’s three storylines (real life, flashbacks and fiction) are continuously woven together. This technique can be a bit befuddling at first because the past is not always immediately discernible from the present but that makes the story even more riveting. Some detractors claim the dialogue is a little heavy-handed but I don’t echo their sentiments because obviously I live for a dramatic turn of phrase. I can only light another stubby candle on my ever-growing mental cupboard shrine dedicated to Tom Ford.
The performances from each actor are gut-mashing (Aaron Taylor-Johnson does crazed degenerate disturbingly well, hence the Golden Globe win), the Abel Korzeniowski score is haunting and the whole thing is a vituperative experience from the incredible opening credits (you’ll see) to the last close-up. Spritz on some Black Orchid and schedule a movie night per direct, you will only slightly regret it.
Tom Ford’s ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is playing in select (Belgian) theatres now.
Images: Focus Features