Saturday, December 10, 2016
Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals is a multi-layered story involving a woman who reads a novel written by her ex-husband as it involves his own life as she also reflects on the life she had with him. Written for the screen and directed by Tom Ford, the film is a neo-noir film where a woman in an unhappy marriage copes with her own past as well as the life she’s in right now. Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, and Laura Linney. Nocturnal Animals is an evocative yet gripping film from Tom Ford.
The film is the story of a woman who is given a manuscript of a novel written by her ex-husband which is about a man and his family who would have a deadly encounter with criminals in West Texas. Through the book, the woman reflects on her brief marriage to her first husband as well as coping with the decisions she’s made in her life including being in an unhappy marriage. Even as she wonders if there are some paralleling images and metaphors in the book she’s reading in relation to her own life. Tom Ford’s screenplay has this unique narrative where it isn’t about a woman reflecting on her life but also dealing with the one she’s in now. It is also about this story of a man who is driving to West Texas going for a holiday with his wife and daughter where an ugly encounter with some locals while on the road.
The narrative would move back and forth with the protagonist Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) reading the manuscript by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) as well as the story that Sheffield made about a man named Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is aided by a local detective in Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) in going after the criminal named Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). It all play into two people being forced to confront themselves in this story as it draw into a lot of parallels into the choices they make but also the outcome of these decisions. Even as reality and fiction would blur through this manuscript as Susan would see things as well as wonder if it is all true or just fiction. Notably as Susan would also look back into her own life which includes things she didn’t want to face but eventually come true as well as the choices that Tony has to make where Andes give him some revelations about the dark realities of the world and what has to be done.
Ford’s direction definitely bears a lot of style from this grotesque opening sequence of naked obese women during the opening credits which is part of a lavish and decadent gallery that Susan is hosting. It plays into a world of reality and cynicism that Susan is a part of but she seems quite disconnected from that world. With the Susan narrative shot largely in Los Angeles and flashbacks in New York City while the Tony narrative is shot in Texas. Ford creates a film that has this nice balance between the two world yet would maintain paralleling images that showcase the similar struggles Tony and Susan would endure. Ford’s usage of wide and medium shots play into the locations the characters are in as the scenes involving Susan have this sense of detachment as Ford creates careful framing from the world she has become a part of while the flashbacks are much simpler as well as display some foreshadowing into what will happen to her. There is also something is quite offbeat to the world that Susan is in from the friends that she has as well as the people who work with her in the art gallery. It has this sense of artificiality and materialism that is quite overwhelming where Ford would do things that seem to mock reality but it would come to haunt Susan as she becomes engrossed by Edward’s manuscript.
The scenes about the journey Tony would take as well as gain some justice with Andes’ help are much more rooted in reality. Notably as it play into a world that is quite unforgiving and eerie as Ford uses a lot of wide shots to capture the West Texas locations. There are also some close-ups as it play into the anguish that Tony would endure as well as some revelations about Andes that to his own need to wanting to do things right. There are moments that are very shocking where Ford would maintain something that is unsettling as it would eventually come into Susan’s world as reality/fiction begin to blur. All of which returns to Susan and the events in her life as well as the pain that she caused for her ex-husband to write this manuscript for her. Overall, Ford creates a visceral and eerie film about a woman questioning her own life by a manuscript written by her ex-husband.
Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does brilliant work with the film‘s cinematography from the way some of the nighttime scenes in Los Angeles and Texas are presented as well as the usage of artificial light for many of the scenes at the art gallery and such in Susan‘s world along with more grimy yet naturalistic look of the daytime exterior scenes in Texas. Editor Joan Sobel does excellent work with the editing with its usage of jump-cuts along with other stylish cuts including some dazzling slow-motion to play into the horror and suspense that Tony would endure. Production designer Shane Valentino, with set decorator Meg Everist and art director Christopher Brown, does amazing work with the look of the stylish yet cold home that Susan lives in as well as the off-the-wall art gallery and its offbeat artwork to the more dirty and grounded look of the scenes and locations set in Texas. Costume designer Arianne Phillips does fantastic work with the costumes from the stylish dresses that Susan wears as well as the people in Los Angeles she is with as well while the look of the characters in Texas is more casual and grimy.
The makeup work of Malanie J. Romero, with additional work from Nathaniel De’Lineadeus, is terrific not just for the look of a few characters that are in Susan‘s world but also in the bearded look of Tony as well as the look of the character Ray. Visual effects supervisor Martin Goodwin does nice work with some of the minimal visual effects that relate to some of the artificiality in Susan‘s world which includes the look of a character in one scene through some eerie makeup effects. Sound editor Lon Bender and sound designer Kris Fenske do superb work with the sound as it play into some of the moments of suspense that Tony would encounter as well as in some of the eerie moments for Susan in how she sees things along with some sparse moments in the film that are very chilling. The film’s music by Abel Korzeniowski is incredible for its somber orchestral score that feature some heavy string arrangements and themes that add to the drama and suspense.
The casting by Francine Maisler is great as it feature some notable small role and appearances from Zawe Ashton as Susan’s assistant, India Menuez as Susan’s daughter, Kristin Bauer van Straten as a grotesque-looking member of Susan’s art gallery in Samantha Van Helsing, Graham Beckel as an officer investigating what happened to Tony, Robert Arayamo as a young local harassing Tony and his family, and Jena Malone in a very offbeat yet funny performance as Sage Ross who is a fellow executive of Susan’s art gallery who wears these very odd clothes. Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough are fantastic in their respective brief appearances as the couple Carlos and Alessia Holt with Sheen wearing some flamboyant clothing and Riseborough sporting some outlandish hairdo as they represent that sense of materialism in Susan’s world. Karl Glusman is superb as Lou as a young local who was part in the dark he encounter he has with Tony and his family as he is quite creepy.
Ellie Bamber and Isla Fisher are wonderful in their respective roles as Tony’s daughter and wife in India and Laura as two women who become frightened by the rowdy locals they meet with Bamber being more abrasive towards them and Fisher being the more concerned of the two. Armie Hammer is terrific as Susan’s husband Hutton as a man that definitely has that look of being good-looking as well as be intentionally-bland as a man that is really neglectful of his wife and what she does. Laura Linney is brilliant as Susan’s mother Anne Sutton as this bourgeois woman of decadence and wealth that Susan tries to rebel as Linney’s one-scene appearance is just fun to watch as someone that doesn’t approve of Edward while having some valid truths about what Susan might have to deal with. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is excellent as Ray Marcus as a rowdy local that Tony and his family would encounter as he is just this wild firecracker of a man that is quite scary as well as be very confrontational.
Michael Shannon is amazing as the detective Bobby Andes as a man who had seen a lot of things as he believes what Tony had been through and suspects Ray while also revealing a lot that he has to deal with in his pursuit of true justice in a world that is becoming more complicated. Jake Gyllenhaal is remarkable in a dual performance as Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings where Gyllenhaal portrays this kind and idealistic man in the former that wants to be a writer but becomes frustrated with Susan’s criticisms. In the latter, Gyllenhaal brings someone that looks anguished and frightened as well as be consumed with guilt as a man desperate to find some justice for what happened to his family. Finally, there’s Amy Adams in a phenomenal performance as Susan Morrow as an arts gallery owner that is dealing with an unhappy marriage and the decisions she’s made in her life as she becomes enamored with a manuscript her ex-husband wrote where she copes with her past and wonders why she can’t sleep nor be happy with the life she’s in.
Nocturnal Animals is a spectacular film from Tom Ford that features great performances from Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Laura Linney. Along with eerie visuals, an amazing supporting cast, chilling sound work, and majestic music. It is this haunting yet intoxicating neo-noir thriller that plays into a woman coping with her past through the actions of a manuscript about the dark aspects of humanity from her ex-husband. In the end, Nocturnal Animals is a tremendous film from Tom Ford.
A Single Man
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