Thursday, 17 November 2016

Nocturnal Animals

Susan (Amy Adams) is an art gallery owner married to a philandering husband (Arnie Hammer), she is lonely and unhappy with her life. This is her second marriage, she left her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the pair haven’t spoken for almost twenty years. So when Edward sends her a violent novel, which was dedicated to her, she feels a little uneasy and wary when reading the novel’s most brutal passages.

The opening credits to Tom Ford’s second feature film has generated some controversy, you may have already read about the opening credits in question so I won’t go into too much detail, but it is a bizarre opening and, like much modern, provocative art, you wonder what was the point. It’s a contrast to the beautiful central stars in what is a movie of contrasts. The film is split into two narrative strands, one in the real world where Susan is in an unhappy marriage with an adulterous husband, and the other is the book written by an ex-husband which was dedicated to her and titled Nocturnal Animals, a loving nickname given to Susan as she struggled to sleep at the night.

The contrast between the flash, extravagant LA life in Susan’s reality and the gritty, violent life in rural Texas is profound and allows for some smart set design and inventive editing techniques that effectively juxtaposes the two narrative strands. The way the film edits these two narrative strands is highly deserving of the praised lavished upon it as the film flicks between the two stories effortlessly and with perfect timing and precision, using sound cues as a way to mark a change in narrative focus.

The theme of revenge permeates throughout the film as Edward’s novel is easily seen as a passive-aggressive act of retribution for Susan betrayal of him due to Susan’s resemblance to the central female character. Edward’s novel discusses similar themes, was as well class divisions, in which a middle class family is kidnapped by ‘white trash’ and subjected to a brutal death. The sole survivor, Tony (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal), embarks on a mission of revenge against the lower class criminals in a theme which is similar to material in films such as Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes in which a middle class family show their own capacity for violence against a group of lower class thugs.

Edward’s novel about a family rammed off the road and terrorised by a group of thugs is a terrific thriller in its own right, it’s a tense, thrilling exercise in which a middle class family man has to become accustomed to violence in the part of society he has no experience of. Gyllenhaal’s anguished performance is superb as Tony embarks on a mission of personal vengeance to capture those responsible for the murder of his wife and child. In this narrative strand there are also great performances from both Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

Outside of fictional world of the film, Amy Adams anchors the film, she is a deeply lonely person whose relationship with her husband is a distant one because of his travels and infidelity. Her relationship with her mother (a scene stealing Laura Linney) is strained to say the least and she is wrestling with herself about the guilt she feels having broken Edward’s heart (something her mother said she would do).

Combining two narrative stands perfectly, Tom Ford's second feature is a cracking watch.


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