Nocturnal Animals: Have You Been Driven by Ford Lately?

Written by | Entertainment, Screen

Expectations ran high after designer Tom Ford wowed audiences with his 2009 debut film, A Single Man. Seven years later, Ford is again behind the lens of a psychological drama, and this time, audiences and critics are split about its success.

Nocturnal Animals

“Nocturnal Animals” courtesy of Focus Features

It’s easy to see what attracted Ford to adapt Austin Wright’s novel, Tony and Susan. It gives Ford the opportunity to do all the things he does best: display beautiful people in stately settings quietly watching their lives unravel. The resultant film, Nocturnal Animals, has all the telltale Ford earmarks, too: It’s as crisp as a Ford suit on an autumn day, with nary a hair out of place or a frame that isn’t there to provide either character insight or plot explication. Some will say that while it’s not bloodless (there’s just enough to make the story visceral), it is relentlessly cerebral, which is what others will love.

It’s essentially a film within a film, as Susan (Amy Adams) suddenly receives a manuscript from Edward, the ex-husband she abandoned for a more comfortable and dispassionate life decades before. Susan reads Edward’s story (in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays both the author and the protagonist), and as if in flashback, it unfolds on screen with terrifying realism. Since Tony dedicated the book to her, Susan has to revisit and consider once again the epochal events that realigned her life onto its present course. The pictures may be pretty, and the performances pristine, but the characters – at least those with consciences – hover in a purgatory between ulcer and suicide.

If you wonder whether you’re a moviegoer, a cineaste or a film lover, Nocturnal Animals may be the best litmus test you’ll ever see. Moviegoers love big action scenes, special effects and things that Go Boom. A cineaste gets goosebumps over subtitles, languorous speeches over man’s inability to rise above his nature or run times in excess of three hours. Film lovers fall somewhere between.

Hollywood tends to lean in the direction of pleasing the masses and profit, of course. And that’s where Nocturnal Animals parts company with the Tinseltown formula. Where blockbusters favor lacerating cuts – whether physical or emotional – where it’s easy to see the protagonists bleed, Ford’s film more subtly suggests broken bones that never heal properly. His characters don’t require tourniquets to staunch the flow of blood; their bruises are unbandageable and permanent. Whether it’s worth your time and money depends largely on why you go to the movies in the first place: If you go to be reassured and escape, this might not be for you. If you’re comfortable with uncertainty, and like a well-told tale manicured to a fare-thee-well, Nocturnal Animals will be absolute catpnip for you.

Last modified: August 31, 2017