Once I was done with Nocturnal Animals, I was reminded of Edward Hoper’s famous painting, Nighthawks.
It’s not just because of the lexical similarity between the two titles. In the film, Susan and Walker are a couple in present time, while Edward has long separated from Susan. As in the painting, the depiction is similar…the loneliness is ever present…a disconnect between the diner and the world outside…there’s disconnect even among its characters; Now you see why it’s so strikingly familiar. Just like the painting, Nocturnal Animals is a beautiful inscrutable work of art. Tom Ford’s multi-layered narratives are separate, and at once, inextricably intertwined with each other; Imagery and tense sequences make this formidable film unforgettable.
A classic revenge tale served two-fold, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals’ amalgamation of narratives is quite perfectly executed. Susan(Amy Adams) receives a final draft manuscript for a novel her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhall) has written and dedicated to her. The unassuming papercut as she opens the package foreshadows the many times the movie melds symbols and colours within past and present, fact and fiction, and every speck of memory the character’s have of their past. Amy Adams’ growing feelings of shock as she relives the past through Edward’s perspective as well as Jake Gyllenhaal’s realistically nervy acting becomes too real to suppress. Tom Ford’s vision is one thing but the acting from the duo are from another universe. It is powerful, affecting and utterly heart-wrenching. Stylistically, Ford accompanies the duo’s heated performances with scenes charged with dynamic elements and styles. The crimson velvet sofa, golden necklace,lavish setting, neo-noir soundtrack and lonely figure shrouded in their shadow is symbolic of Ford’s snazzy,gnarly,modern thriller.
There comes a risk of alienating parts of the audience who easily junk this type of work into the pretentious category. Since Nocturnal Animals has clearly entered mainstream cinemas (and obviously gunning for some awards silverware), some might call it an artistic misadventure. But that’s not really the case. The acting is exceptional, cinematography is a total stunner and directing is on-point. The gripe I have about this, quite reluctantly, is how it doesn’t fully engage me. It hits hard and I feel for the two main characters, but there’s just something distant about it. It might boil down to the last few scenes of the film where Ford goes for something hard-boiled instead. The nilhilistic undertones in the last scene linger on, leaving me breathless but entirely empty. I have my own opinions on how it could have ended better but I guess this is a very personal and subjective point. Even with this slight lament, Nocturnal Animals is very good for a very long time and that is an achievement few films can only hope to match. Tom Ford’s wide panning shots and close-ups give an all pervading sense of eerie within veneers of insecurity and regret.
When combining three distinct and separate threads and timelines, Nocturnal Animals is not just blindsiding you for mystery’s sake. Because even though we know who’s story is who’s, boundaries begin to disappear for our characters on screen…the significance of their tales begin to unfold in unimaginable ways. In narrative and aesthetic terms, the nostalgic warmth of the lover’s past, the vengeful wild-west story of horrible fate and the troubling and empty existence of reality leave impressions on each other but never fully reconcile. I honestly felt like the wild-west narrative could have been shorter and tighter because it felt too enclosed by itself at times and the ending fizzled out a little…so it took away some of the perfection for me. Nevertheless, Nocturnal Animals plays on it’s gritty and unsettling vibes as it adds new perspective to neo-noir. What made it stand out was how I couldn’t really shoebox the film into any kind of genre. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal made the experience very engaging, often having the power to shift the tone of the film at will.
But as the film retires to its end, having wrung itself out of its entanglement quite successfully, there is an aching sentimentality that comes because it simply does. Most noir and neo-noir films finish with a bang coming as a result of something immediately tragic…some point of catharsis is achieved as a result. Nocturnal Animals gives the most poignant scene without the customary bang. It was always coming from the start and arrived quietly at the end. I still think it’s somewhat empty but come to think of it, it’s refreshing to see Nocturnal Animals subvert our expectations. A highly stylish thriller with ambitious narrative scope only Tom Ford could conceive, I feel like it’s the most original thriller/neo-noir/mystery movie I’ve seen in a very long time. Yes, even comparing it to being ‘Lynchian’ or ‘Kubrickian’ doesn’t do the film justice…this is a great film in its own right.
Beautifully shot,directed and acted. Fantastic soundtrack as well. Amy Adams has to be up for this, if not already for Arrival (which I haven’t seen). AND COME ON, JUST GIVE JAKE GYLLENHAAL THAT DAMN NOMINATION ALREADY! Michael Shannon was pretty awesome as well.