Thought-provoking, achingly personal, and sophisticatedly designed films like Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals don’t come along every day.
The Production: 4.5/5
Thought-provoking, achingly personal, and sophisticatedly designed films like Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals don’t come along every day. One of those rare story-within-a-story films that not only works but meshes together so fluidly that its very construction is a wonder to behold, Nocturnal Animals emerges as one of the year’s best movies and one worthy of repeated viewings which will reveal many hidden riches buried within.
The story of Nocturnal Animals involves artist/art historian Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) reflecting on her unfulfilling, slightly dissatisfied life as she reads a gripping new novel sent to her in galley form by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). His novel called Nocturnal Animals involves a soft-spoken, sensitive husband Tony Hastings (also Jake Gyllenhaal) and the nightmare he experiences as his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are abducted in a nighttime attack on a deserted highway in West Texas by three rough characters: Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lou (Karl Glusman), and Turk (Robert Aramayo). The wheels of justice for Tony grind to a halt on more than one occasion in the book, just as Susan realizes that her needful and dependent former husband Edward felt similarly abandoned when she left him for the strikingly handsome but duplicitous Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer) all those years ago.
Tom Ford has produced, directed, and written the film basing his screenplay on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. With its parallel stories traversing the length of the movie, this film most closely resembles in structure The French Lieutenant’s Woman except that the real story of Susan, Edward, and Hutton isn’t told linearly but rather jumps back and forth in time to better reflect passages of Edward’s new book which Susan is totally engrossed in. In his carefully detailed way, Ford has neatly provided visual, verbal, and aural cues that link Susan’s reality to Edward’s fiction so that by the end, we understand completely the cathartic nature of the novel for Edward in explaining his heart and soul to the woman who is responsible for its creation. Visually, of course, the movie is every bit as striking and masterfully composed as Ford’s first startling venture into cinema: A Single Man (some may find the film too artfully and self-consciously appointed). There are painterly vistas of skies and plains, Susan and Hutton’s home is a handsomely crafted and creatively designed structure of immense if cold beauty, and the main title sequence alone is unforgettably forged: an art motion piece involving obese, naked female dancers celebrating their forms amid stationary figures of similar size and shape. But don’t think for a moment that Ford can’t stage and shoot something horrifically ugly: the abduction scene and its aftermath is agonizingly shot stretching tension to the maximum (thankfully, Susan’s apprehension causes breaks in her reading a couple of times allowing the viewer to catch his breath before plunging back into the nightmare). That apprehension sequence can equal the thrills and angst of any of the year’s best thrillers.
The film offers showcases for a handful of talented actors. Amy Adams gets to play older and younger versions of Susan at various stages of her life which she does to perfection. Jake Gyllenhaal might not delineate Edward and Tony to a great degree, but then that’s the point, isn’t it: Tony is simply a fictionalized version of Edward, both men who might be seen by others as weak but are actually merely men whose moral compass operates at a level different from many others. In his very dramatic scenes especially as Tony, Gyllenhaal always delivers. Michael Shannon’s Oscar-nominated work as Detective Bobby Andes is a wonderfully precise depiction of a dedicated, world-weary Texas lawman. Aaron Taylor-Johnson won this year’s Golden Globe for his featured work as redneck rapist Ray Marcus, a cunning, unnerving performance that resonates long after the movie ends. Armie Hammer as the despicable Hutton Morrow has a couple of noteworthy scenes, and Laura Linney is stunning in her one scene cameo as Susan’s haughty mother. Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber are eerily made up to be mirror images of Amy Adams in playing the ill-fated wife and daughter of the victim Tony Hastings.
3D Rating: NA
The movie was shot on film and is presented here in its theatrical 2.40:1 aspect ratio in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Everything about the transfer is stunning and clearly reference quality. Sharpness is outstanding, and you’ll see many details in skin textures, hair, and clothes (with those obese naked dancers in the opening credits, you might wish things weren’t so sharp and crisp). Color is carefully modulated to differentiate between the cold blues of the real California art world and Susan’s home life and the richly saturated and golden-hued world of Texas in the novel sequences. Black levels are superbly rich and oily (a movie called Nocturnal Animals certainly should have deep black levels). The movie has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix serves the film well without ever drawing attention to itself. The lush, almost Bernard Herrmann-like background score of Abel Korzeniowski fills the front and rear soundstages, and occasional ambient atmospheric effects likewise get proper placement in the soundfield even occasionally featuring some pans through the channels as cars whiz by on the highway. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
Special Features: 1.5/5
The Making of Nocturnal Animals (11:18, HD): three brief featurettes can be put together into this vignette about the making, themes, and design of the movie. Speaking are writer-director Tom Ford, producer Robert Salerno, costume designer Arianne Phillips, director of photography Seamus McGarvey, and actors Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, and Ellie Bamber.
Promo Trailers (HD): The Zookeeper’s Wife, Loving, A Monster Calls, Frank & Lola, Desierto, The Edge of Seventeen, and Bleed for This, among others.
DVD/Digital Copy/Ultraviolet: disc and code sheet enclosed in the case.
Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals offers sophisticated, thoughtful drama with its unique structure and beautifully modulated performances. The Blu-ray is reference quality as well with stunning image quality which looks like very few films of this or any other year. Recommended!