Friday, 11 November 2016

Nocturnal Animals

Fashion designer Tom Ford impresses with his dark and stylish second feature

Written by Jason Solomons


Fashion lord-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford turns on the style, ramps up the ambitions and laces it with malice after a gap of seven years since his debut, A Single Man.

Nocturnal Animals, which earned him the Silver Lion at Venice, where I first reviewed it, is certainly better value for money than some of his clothes – you practically get three films in one here, each of them crackling with bitter intent that exerts a cold, hard grip.

Ford has clearly gone from making elegant glasses frames to creating equally striking framing devices – Amy Adams plays Susan, a successful LA gallerist whose marriage to slimy Armie Hammer is in peril, despite the sleek lines of their modernist mansion with its Jeff Koons sculpture in the garden.

You feel this couple have forgotten the meaning and the value of everything, immune to the art pieces hanging on their stressed concrete walls. Until Adams receives a manuscript in the post – it’s a book, written by her ex- husband Edward, a man she once brutally accused of not having the gumption to be a successful writer. Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

She begins reading and we’re plunged into the novel’s action, set on a Texas road at night, where a man, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is driving his family across the state. Some joyriding hicks run them off the road and a vicious kidnap drama ensues, featuring Aaron Taylor-Johnson in his best-ever role. I think everyone will be surprised that this taut, sweaty, breathless section comes from Tom Ford, except that its composed elegance forms part of its menace.

Occasionally we cut back to Amy Adams reading the book, taking off her glasses (Tom Ford’s, no doubt) and shuddering. This story is hitting home and giving her yet another in a series of sleepless nights. ‘It’s violent and sad and he’s dedicated it to me,’ she whispers, shocked.

Back in the novel, which is called Nocturnal Animals, a sheriff, played brilliantly by Michael Shannon (‘I look into things around here’), joins in the hunt. You’d certainly pay just to see this movie within a movie or to read this novel itself. But the outer shell of the film fascinates equally. Adams’s backstory fills in: how she met her ex-husband (also played by the dependably excellent Gyllenhaal) and what happened to them, how she offended him so unforgivably. Slowly, we see that this novel, long gestating as it has been, is about revenge, both in the story and in its intended target.

But the whole film is also about art and the power it has to really shock. Adams’s gallery world peddles art but has ceased to feel it or appreciate its power. Now this book is reminding her how art can hurt, can hit home to unsettle and chill the bones.

I liked this film very much – five or six Oscar nominations would be a fair haul. It’s not perfect, though. Certainly, I would have loved to have seen more of the ancillary characters, such as gay Carlos (played by Michael Sheen in a lavender blazer, also by Tom Ford) and his blousy wife, played by Andrea Riseborough (‘Darling, you must all meet my psycho- pharmacologist, he’s a wiz’), who hold a dinner party like something out of Woody Allen’s Sleeper. Those two merit a spin-off film of their own.

And perhaps Nocturnal Animals doesn’t have someone to really root for, save maybe Gyllenhaal’s petrified husband in the novel part. but for all its glacial poise, my, how it sizzles inside and leaves you smarting. An immensely impressive work, then, about how we pervert and soil human nature, a film with ice in its heart and fire in its soul.



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