Director: Tom Ford; Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhall, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney. 15 cert. 116 min
The multiple storylines in Tom Ford‘s new thriller are dealt with in a way that makes them easy to follow. Susan (Adams) is in a static relationship with Hutton (Hammer) when she receives the first manuscript from her ex-husband of 20 years, Edward, with a note asking her opinion. She reflects on her relationship with Edward (Gyllenhall) as she reads with flashbacks that bring out the depth of her character. The devastating tale from the novel of the Hastings family is played out by Jake Gyllenhall (again), Isla Fisher and an exquisite turn by Ellie Bamber.
As one would expect from a film directed by a man who trained as an architect and made his name as a fashion designer, Nocturnal Animals is visually stunning. When scenes echo images from each other to weave a visual pattern throughout, you know that you’re watching a well planned and executed, stylised movie.
It is the costume, as well as the stage dressing, that create the three worlds and set them apart. The Texas story is often filmed outside and there is a distinct feel to the characters, who are dressed as you would imagine typical Texans to be. There’s a modern cowboy feel throughout this chapter of the film. Paradoxically it is this dark tale that has the most colour within clothing and scenery.
The 90s flashbacks show a softer, younger side of the Susan and Edward characters and this is reflected in their casual yet middle class style. A lot of these scenes have a muted feel; they are shot at night, in dimly lit rooms, or during grim, rainy days. Characters are dressed in dull colours, especially Susan who lives in black.
This style is followed through to the present day where she is rarely out of dark colours, but now she wears sleeker, more formal dresses and office wear. Her insecurities are made evident by the constant hiding behind her hair whilst remaining ultra-groomed whenever in public. The set dressing brings to the fore the similarities between her home, the gallery and her office. Despite the sullen nature it is this plot that provides the most striking imagery, not least of all in Susan’s final outfit; a figure-hugging emerald green gown that contrasts against her sleek red hair. The difference between this and the monochrome of the rest of her wardrobe will not be lost on an attentive audience.
It is not just full of visual delights; it is also an audio treat. Emotional scenes are played under the sound of only a heartbeat or breathing so you feel at one with the character. Throughout there is a limited music soundtrack with the one piece played over during several crucial moments. By the final scene, where it is the only sound, you have invested enough time in the music for it to appeal to your emotions more than the characters.
Susan is hard to like, which is a strength of Adams’ portrayal; all of your empathy will be with Jake Gyllenhall’s dual roles of Tony and Edward. It is the characters in the internal story of the novel that will have you enthralled from the unlucky family to the sociopathic Ray (Taylor-Johnson) and the charismatic Bobby Andes (Shannon).
The intertwining of three narratives is handled well so that there is little confusion as to whether you are watching the story of the novel, one of the flashbacks or the ‘now’ part of the tale. Clumsy dialogue in some of Susan and Hutton’s scenes does not detract from the overall quality of the script.
The majority of the performances are moving, with Isla Fisher and Aaron Taylor-Johnson really standing out. Adams’ performance of a seemingly emotionally cold woman is subtle but it is the slightest of facial expressions that show the cracks in Susan’s charade. Despite only having one scene Laura Linney pulls the rug out from under her co-stars with her astute portrayal of the distant mother, excellent casting due to Amy Adams‘ resemblance to her.
An unnecessary moment of faecal matter and an underwhelming performance from Armie Hammer are the only lowlights of an otherwise engrossing cinema experience.