Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Tom Ford, Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal at the Venice Film Festival. (Photo by Ernesto Ruscio/Getty Images)
Since it won the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival, writer/director Tom Ford’s follow-up film to A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals has been receiving raves from critics. Stephen Whitty at the New York Daily News wrote, “It sounds a little too clever, but it’s not. It’s just clever enough,” while David Rooney at the Hollywood Reporter gushed, “the film once again demonstrates that Ford is both an intoxicating sensualist and an accomplished storyteller, with as fine an eye for character detail as he has for color and composition.”
Here is what some other critics had to say:
“On first viewing, I was knocked out. Second time around, the film seemed more cleverly complex but also more calculating,” – Mark Kermode, The Observer
“Ford’s artfully composed and emotionally clever noir is well-paced and, in stark contrast to the naked flesh that opens the film, never, ever sags.” – Will Lawrence, Empire Magazine
“Sleek and crisp, as is Ford’s style, but with scenes of domestic terror and toxic masculinity so tautly rendered, you sort of wish he’d just gone all the way with it and made an art-house Last House on the Left. – Jason Bailey, Flavorwire
“Aided [by the] sumptuous cinematography of Seamus McGarvey, the surgically precise editing of Joan Sobel, and a murderer’s row of acting talent, Ford’s sophomore effort is bursting with confidence, which it uses to subvert our expectations.” Dan Casey, Nerdist
“Tom Ford’s first film since A Single Man is another winner, an ambitious high-wire noir thriller with Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal in an explosive tale of love, violence, and revenge.” – Owen Gleiberman, Variety
In Ford’s dark, psychosexual thriller, wealthy but troubled art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives the manuscript for a novel penned by her estranged ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) along with an invitation for dinner during Edward’s upcoming visit to Los Angeles. Miserable with her deteriorating marriage to her unfaithful husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer), Susan begins to read the novel, which is both dedicated to her and named Nocturnal Animals after Edward’s nickname for her.
The story follows Tony Hastings (also Jake Gyllenhaal), a peaceful man who runs afoul of three local troublemakers – Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Thomas), Lou and Turk – during a road trip through Texas. Forced off the road, Tony is powerless to stop Ray and Turk from driving away with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their daughter, India, leaving him with Lou, who forces him to drive Ray’s car to an abandoned stretch of land to be abandoned. Tony manages to evade the returning Ray and Turk, who arrive in search of him, and makes his way to a nearby farmhouse to ask for help.
Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) is assigned to the case and ultimately learns Laura and India were raped and murdered, finding their bodies near an abandoned shack, and leaving Tony wracked with guilt. Shocked by the dark content and raw emotion of the novel, Susan reminisces about meeting Edward in college and their blossoming relationship, which Susan’s domineering mother Anne Sutton (Laura Linney) objected to, claiming that Edward was not worthy of Susan’s affections and that due to his romantic worldviews he lacked the drive to actually achieve his goals, which Susan ignored, ultimately marrying Edward.
Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal described the critical darling in their own words.
Amy: It doesn’t leave you skipping. Tom says it’s a cautionary tale. It’s a thriller but it has an emotional undercurrent that allows you to feel attached and empathetic to the characters.
Jake: I second that. I play dual characters in a way. It’s hard to describe. Edward is the writer of the novel that Susan is reading in the movie. He sends her a manuscript. They used to be married. I also play Tony, the main character in the book that Susan is reading. The narrative of the movie comes from Susan reading that book. You learn about Edward and Susan’s relationship through Susan’s memories as she’s reading the book.
Amy: I play Susan. When we meet her, she’s an art gallerist who’s depressed and maybe feeling dissatisfied with her life and her choices. She receives a manuscript from her ex-husband. She begins reading it and it takes her on a journey through her past. This dark story causes her to examine her choices.
Tom Ford isn’t your typical writer/director. Though he studied fashion, he graduated with a degree in architecture. His architecture degree must have been his backup plan since he became one of the hottest designers in the fashion world, working for Perry Ellis, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent before launching his own line. Not surprisingly, you won’t see any Crocs or track suits in Nocturnal Animals. The actors, especially Adams’ Susan, is always stylish.
Amy: That is true.
Jake: You can be sad and still be impeccably dressed.
Amy: She puts herself together but that’s kind of her armor. She can go out in the world and present herself as successful and authentic as long as she presents it as such. That’s how we all are in a way. If you can present it, people will accept it and think you’re doing alright.
A good fashion designer naturally has a keen eye for the visual details. Ford’s discerning sense of aesthetic helped the actors delve deeper into their characters’ psyches.
Jake: There was a clarity and a surety to his vision before he offered either of us these roles. He’s well prepared. I think in that sense, he came to us with a clear understanding. He wrote the screenplay obviously and it was beautifully written. He came to us with his vision along with the words he wrote with a clear idea of all these narratives. To work with him, you know he’s done so much work beforehand and you feel like you’re in very safe, capable hands. He’s someone who’s very empathetic. He understands human behavior and really respects actors. He respects the process of actors. At the same time, he’s extraordinarily specific about how he visualizes what he’s written.
Amy: His specificity is thoughtful. It’s not just specific to be specific or out of some sort of neurosis. It really is so thought out and well-planned, but he was able to let go of the characters and allow us to breathe life into them. In a way, I felt I was Tom. He was my muse on set.
Jake: It’s funny you say that. I had that feeling. Tom would act out the scenes for me sometimes. One time, he was pounding the ground and weeping. I thought that Edward and Tony were a large part of who Tom is as well. His presentation is very much like Susan. There’s a lot of vulnerability and he’s tortured in a lot of ways, but he’s also a writer.
Nocturnal Animals opens in select theaters November 18th.