Neo-Noir Interpretation

Tom Ford’s follow-up to his 2009 directorial debut, A Single Man, is a slick and stylish affair following Susan (Amy Adams), a successful but despondent gallery owner in the glitzy but vapid L.A. art world.

When Susan receives a manuscript for a novel out of the blue from her ex-husband, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), she is tormented by the memory of their failed marriage. As she delves into Nocturnal Animals, his violent narrative that has been dedicated to her, ambiguous flashbacks are brought to the surface, only perpetuated by the title of the work: a nickname Tony once had for her.

Ford’s film tackles a sprawling triptych storyline, weaving together Susan’s lonely life in L.A. whilst her cheating husband Walker is away on business, her imagined interpretation of Tony’s brutal, unforgiving manuscript (in which the life of a passive teacher, Edward, is torn apart when his wife and daughter are abducted by three men on a highway at night), and the memories of love and loss the former couple shared in their 20s.

The juxtaposition between the glimmering lights of Los Angeles and the cold, dark Texan plains is sudden and jarring, throwing us towards one of the feature’s most tense moments – the roadside confrontation between Edward’s family and a violent trio headed by Ray (an unhinged Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

Self-conscious and pointing towards the form of post-modernist literature, the film is both visually and conceptually compelling. As the various threads begin to intertwine, the overarching themes of revenge and regret unfold. Tony’s rage is showcased on the page, inevitably causing her to revisit the painful memory of what she did to him nearly two decades ago. Ford has deftly adapted Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, and the result is an ambitious, grisly thriller.

Nocturnal Animals is out for theatrical release now.

Credits: 1. Still from Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals (2016). Courtesy of Focus Features.