"I'm too cynical to be an artist."
Fashion designer Tom Ford's second film, Nocturnal Animals, is just as stylish, moody, and cinematic as his first, the sumptuous A Single Man. Full of offbeat, post-modern narrative shifts, the film, based on novelist Austin Wright's novel Tony and Susan, tells stories within stories in the style of a psychological thriller and film noir. These stories are mostly emotionally devastating and express a deeply cynical and knowing fatalism aided by Ford's impeccable eye for composition.
Amy Adams stars as parallel versions of Susan Morrow, an insomniac art dealer, in the past and present who temporarily escapes her sad life of privilege by reading her ex-husband's manuscript for "Nocturnal Animals" inspired by their failed marriage. A vibrant Jake Gyllenhaal within the film's meta storyline portrays both Susan's actual estranged ex, Edward, in flashbacks and the main character of his book, Tony, enacted inside Susan's mind as she's reading it while paralleling her own life. Gyllenhaal is mediative, emotional, and engrossing in his dual roles contrasting Adams' starkly cold, detached demeanour.
Cowboy Michael Shannon plays a hard-boiled West Texas cop and chews up the scenery fabulously as the film's pulpy highlight. A very broad Aaron Taylor-Johnson is absolutely terrifying and obnoxious as the violent antagonist to Tony within the book. A-list bit players show up to flesh out Ford's highly stylized world including Armie Hammer as Susan's current estranged husband, Laura Linney as Susan's shrill mother, and Isla Fisher as Susan's story doppelgänger.
The film hammers its ideas and themes, primarily that writers ought to write what they know and everyone eventually becomes their mother again and again. Ford emphasizes the difficulty escapeing who we ultimately are and how people often are doomed to follow the path set for them. Gyllenhaal's Tony explores the role of toxic masculinity and revenge in retaliation alongside the futility and satisfaction of violence rather tragically. Ford's talented hand frames the bitterness and regret of the characters into a rich, complex narrative with a cold precision.
Nocturnal Animals is a frustrating but ambitiously assured work of meta storytelling exploring luxury and privilege in the context of human behaviour and impotence. The way it intertwines style and self-indulgence is admirable if still maddening. The whole thing feels like an attractive and elaborate work of revenge against the symbolic character of Susan and everything she represents.
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