I was a huge fan of fashion designer Tom Ford’s debut movie A Single Man. Adapted for the screen by Ford as well as directed, it was immaculately put together (as you’d probably expect from a designer) but it was also bold, superbly acted (particularly by Colin Firth) and edgy enough to be entirely fascinating. Needless to say, a headline gala for Ford’s sophomore effort, Nocturnal Animals was a must see. Having spoken to a few people afterwards, I can be entirely sure that this movie will split people absolutely down the middle between those who loved it and those who couldn’t stand it. I am resolutely in the former camp. Nothing I describe here (especially avoiding spoilers) will predict which camp you fall into.
Amy Adams is Susan Morrow, a wealthy gallery owner, on to her second marriage with Armie Hammer’s deathly boring workaholic and barely present (in life and the script) Hutton. Susan is having something of a crisis having left her first romantic / creative husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) some twenty years previous for the good looking lantern jawed guy. Business isn’t going well for Hutton and Susan is losing her fragile confidence in her ability to sell art. When a package containing a novel written by her ex arrives on her doorstep, she spends her insomnia filled nights reading what appears to be an allegorical version of her treatment of Edward.
And so we get a parallel tale of a husband and wife who, whilst driving through the night in West Texas become victims, along with their daughter to a horrific carjacking. Meanwhile, Susan struggles with her suspicions about Hutton and her latest show.
Of course, this being Ford, all of this is played out in contrasting immaculately sharp surroundings for the ‘real life’ section and immaculately filthy surroundings for the ‘story’ section. Every frame has clearly been agonised over, with Adams’ giant, thick rimmed black reading glasses positioned just so as the manuscript falls from her grasp onto the immaculate floor and lands just so. Which, I should be proclaiming as tedious as all hell but I can’t because it just works. Because Ford instills an overwhelming sense that it all means something. In a parallel world to this, I am sat writing this review and capitalising MEANS because I’m being sarcastic….
Near the beginning, Susan drives her immaculate car up to the immaculate gates of her immaculate home and the gate is so immaculately shiny that she is temporarily blinded by her own headlights. Right there, it’s that kind of detail in this movie that completely clicks with me. And I say that, safe in the knowledge that it just isn’t going to work for a good number of people.
Adams is great as the tightly wound gallery owner and I can believe her trajectory from idealistic youngster full of reciprocated belief in her writer husband through to exhausted career woman, agonising over a series of decisions that haunt her to this day. Gyllenhaal is good as both the writer husband and the wronged man in the parallel story and as ever, Michael Shannon threatens to steal the whole show as the lawman on the trail of the carjacking gang.
I’m not sure it’s worth defending Nocturnal Animals against its detractors, I think this is a movie that works for you or it doesn’t. For me though, I have spent more time thinking about this movie than any of the others I saw at this year’s LFF. It’s a movie I know I will revisit and one that I desperately want to discuss (with spoilers) with anyone who enjoyed it half as much as I did. It’s a movie destined to cleave its audience in two and I’m good with that. It's a movie that revels in its unreliable witness and one I found enthralling, painful, beautiful, ugly and yes, immaculate.