By Phillip Guy Ellis (Northampton, England)
Star – Amy Adams & Jake Gyllenhaal
Genre – Drama
Run Time – 1 hr 56 minutes
Certificate – 18
Country – U.S.A
Amazon – £ DVD £ Blue Ray
Oscars – 1 Nomination
Awards – 16 Wins & 32 Nominations
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So Tom Ford, the world class fashion designer and gay icon, decides to make a film, A Single Man with Colin Firth, and the film about a gay man, as expected, as stylish as the designer. What gay man wouldn’t like to see Colin Firth turned and shirtless? It would earn Firth an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a depressed gay man and Tom Ford a round of applause. Well Ford is back with Nocturnal Animals, his second sabbatical from cutting silk suits and turning up trousers, this time with square jawed geek Jake Gyllenhaal and the next Meryl Streep, Amy Adams.
Like Ford’s first film it was very much style over substance and some critics let him know that. The industry likes new talent but not hobbyists. Interestingly Ford chose to leave that costuming in the film strictly to the costume designer. Not a single Tom Ford product appears in the film, as Ford “didn’t want a commercial, according to IMDB trivia. Focus Features certainly liked the look of Nocturnal Animals and paid $20 million dollars for global distribution rights in Cannes. This is the highest amount ever paid for a film at the festival.” Its eventual $22.5 million budget pulled back just $30m and suggests this one did not catch the public’s imagination. The awards circuit did like it and British co-star Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s Golden Globe win for this movie marked the first time in more than 40 years that a Golden Globe winner in the Best Supporting Actor category hasn’t secured an Oscar nomination. The now ubiquitous Michael Shannon did get Oscar nominated for this, however.
• Amy Adams as Susan Morrow
• Jake Gyllenhaal as Edward Sheffield
• Armie Hammer as Hutton Morrow, Susan’s second husband
• Laura Linney as Anne Sutton, Susan’s estranged mother
• Andrea Riseborough as Alessia Holt, Carlos’ wife
• Michael Sheen as Carlos Holt, Alessia’s homosexual husband
• India Menuez as Samantha Morrow, Susan’s daughter
• Zawe Ashton as Alex
• Jena Malone as Sage Ross
• Kristin Bauer van Straten as Samantha Van Helsing
• Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony Hastings
• Michael Shannon as Detective Bobby Andes
• Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ray Marcus
• Isla Fisher as Laura Hastings, Tony’s wife
• Ellie Bamber as India Hastings, Tony’s daughter
• Karl Glusman as Lou Bates, gang member
• Robert Aramayo as Turk/Steve Adams, gang member
• Graham Beckel as Lt. Graves
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a successful art gallery owner, receives a new book in the mail written by her estranged ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) along with an invitation for dinner during Edward’s upcoming visit to Los Angeles. Her current marriage is failing to handsome but unfaithful businessman Hutton Morrow (Arnie Hammer) and the meeting somewhat appealing with her first love. But the book drags up emotions of that time, which we see through flashback, Susan becoming consumed by the novel as it seems to be more than the sum of its parts and making some kind of ‘point’ about their relationship, the book both dedicated to her and named ‘Nocturnal Animals’ after Edward’s nickname for her.
The books plot line, which we see frequently acted out in the film, sees Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal in Susan’s imagination playing the part) as a passive nonviolent family man who has the misfortune to be run off the road in the Texas desert by some redneck trouble makers and threaten his family, wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter Indian (Ellie Bamber). Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), the leader of the thug trio, escalates the situation to the point dad is powerless and separated from his family in the dark and he has to escape to call the cops and help find them the next day, Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) on the case, Tony a person of interest, considering the story.
Susan is shocked by the dark content and raw emotion of the novel and draws comparisons to her feelings on that tension, reminiscing about meeting Edward in college two decades ago and their blossoming relationship, which Susan’s domineering and wealthy middle class mother Anne Sutton (Laura Linney) objected to, claiming that Edward was not worthy of Susan and that because of his snowflake views on the world and romantic dream of becoming a writer he would not be able to provide for her. Has the book been written to try and woo her back or an elaborate apology?
Edward Sheffield: I guess it’s a way of keeping things alive. You know, saving things that will eventually die. If I write it down, then… it’ll last forever.
A Single Man was all about the look and feel of the thing and the film cut and bespoke as a Savile Row suit, Firth immaculate in his performance as the sets and people around him. Tom Ford is at home at that stuff and so delivered, like dressing model shoots. Nocturnal Animals is a very different beast and although it looks great with its striking opening scene of naked obese women once it gets into the complex drama it begins to over extend itself. Not badly but you are just unsure if you are watching cool film or just distracted by the amazing cast, costumes and acting.
It’s one of those films that because other important people in the movie business have said its good and interesting you kind of get sucked into that and convince yourself you have are seeing something good. It was the same with American Beauty. But I did not like that film and felt vindicated when Spacey got found out for being gay and promiscuous as I only ever felt American Beauty was really about Spacey coming out in that film, the young girl in the bath really a young boy, the forbidden fruit. Nocturnal Animal is certainly a better experience for me and enjoyable for the duration than that movie.
Ford handed the complex mix of the three stories of now, then and the fictional plot of the book, also unfolding on screen, pretty well. Gyllenhaal playing the ex-husband and the character in the book didn’t make sense though. In fact the whole vicarious layered emotional thing with the three narrative strands didn’t really work as the book story is not Amy Adams story. But fair play for trying.
I think the prestige of its Cannes buzz and record purchase price helped to garner those acting awards. For me no one in this film delivers a special performance. Maybe it’s because the actors are so good and it’s easy for them but Aaron Taylor-Johnson getting a Golden Globe nod for playing a typical tobacco chewing redneck thug in jeans and Gingham was odd. I just think it’s a good film that’s been talked up by the dazzled critics because of its ingredients, and like a nice fancy meal in a likewise restaurant, we are prepared to pay way over the odds for that company and ambience. Looking back at the film now you are less impressed. Good, stylish but not standout.
Imdb.com – 7.5/10.0 (168.324votes)
Rottentomatos.com – 73 % critic’s approval
Metacritic.com – 67% critic’s approval
Globe & Mail –’A ridiculous, high-camp mess that could easily be mistaken for substance, if it weren’t so irredeemably silly’.
NY Times –’Despite the fulsomeness of Ford’s cinematic reference points, one can’t avoid the feeling that something crucial is still missing’.
Baltimore Spirit –’Nocturnal Animals is, simply, flawless. There is no part of this film that could be changed or subtracted without damaging the rest of it, and there is nothing that needs to be added’.
Star –’The major weakness of Nocturnal Animals, which is constructed as a story within a story, is that the frame story is shallow and this is not sufficiently compensated for by the story within the frame’.
Rolling Stone –’Tom Ford hits it out of the park with a stunning film noir that resonates with ghostly, poetic terror. Don’t overthink what Ford has so cunningly crafted. Surrender to it’.
New York Times –’There’s much to admire in Nocturnal Animals, including Mr. Ford’s ambition, but too often it feels like the work of an observant student’.
Rating: 4/5BEST QUOTES