Saturday, December 10, 2016

'Nocturnal Animals' Is Beautifully Chaotic

After making a splash with his 2009 directorial debut A Single Man which netted Colin Firth a Best Actor nomination, fashion designer turned director Tom Ford makes a return to the director's chair with Nocturnal Animals which not only demonstrates his distinctive visual flare he had demonstrated in A Single Man but has me hoping that we don't have to wait another 7 years for his next film.

Nocturnal Animals is told through three nonlinear storylines: Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) who reads a manuscript of a violent novel dedicated to her by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal); Edward and Susan's crumbling marriage; the story within the story involving Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), a Southern everyman who finds himself on the brink of vengeance after a tragic occurrence involving his family.

Normally, a film that has a nonlinear structure can scramble with an audience member's mind because the story can get all over the place. But I think in this case, director Tom Ford and editor Joan Sobel trust the audience enough for them to know when the film is at what storyline. So kudos to them. The screenplay by Tom Ford also aids the film's nonlinear structure and is packed with intrigue, having you ask questions like "How will the novel end?" and "Why would her husband dedicate this novel to her?" Even if some questions aren't answered, that's still the beauty of if because it is interesting when a film has you revisit it to continue to try and piece the puzzle yourself.

Also, much like A Single Man, the cinematography manages to feel like it is its own character and manages to keep your eyes glued to the screen. The cinematographer is different with Seamus McGarvey behind the lens this time around after Eduard Grau lensed A Single Man but the palette is just as colorful. McGarvey's cinematography manages to capture the mood of each storyline: The main "Susan" storyline is very bleak to capture the mundanity of the empty fashion world she lives in, the "Edward and Susan" storyline has rather normal lighting with tints of red to hint at the darkness that'll follow, and the "Tony" storyline has yellowish lighting to capture the sweaty raw feel of the deserted Texas landscape.

Another reason this film keeps you engaged throughout is the actors. Amy Adams delivers yet another knockout performance as the rather chilly Susan, using her eyes to capture a woman who is trapped in the rubble of her current yet hollow high scale world while also showcasing her initial lovelorn nature that she once displayed. Jake Gyllenhaal is also fantastic in his dual roles: the lovelorn yet betrayed Edward and the kindly everyman turned agent of vengeance Tony. Exemplary work from both lead actors who consistently keep upping their game.

Even though she literally has one scene, Laura Linney leaves you wanting more as Susan's hard nosed Manhattanite matron. From her sorrowful yet scornful eyes to the way she comically sips her wine, she packs plenty of large detail about her character into so little. Michael Shannon is also a scene stealer as Texan sheriff Bobby Andes from the "Tony" storyline. Through his dry comic relief and sinister penance stare, Shannon manages to keep you glued to him whenever he's on screen as a loose cannon cop with little moral regard.

Overall, Nocturnal Animals is a chaotic visual experience mixed with flawless acting performances that had me hooked from beginning to end. It proves that A Single Man was not just a one-off and director Tom Ford has a very keen eye for storytelling.

Grade: A