Fashion lord-turned-film maker Tom Ford turns up the style and laces it with malice after a gap of seven years since A Single Man.
Nocturnal Animals, which earned him Best Director at Venice where I first reviewed it, is certainly better value for money than some of his clothes – you practically get three films in one here, each of them crackling with bitter intent.
Ford’s gone from making elegant glasses frames to creating equally striking framing devices – Amy Adams is a successful LA gallerist whose marriage to the slimy Armie Hammer is in peril despite the sleek lines of their modernist mansion with its Jeff Koons sculpture in the garden.
You feel this couple have forgotten the meaning and the value of everything. Until Adams receives a manuscript in the post – it’s a book, written by her ex-husband Edward. She begins reading and we’re plunged into the novel’s action, set on a Texas road at night, where a man played by Jake Gyllenhaal is taking his family across the state.
Some joy riding hicks run them off the road and a vicious kidnap drama ensues, featuring Aaron Taylor Johnson in his best-ever role. I think everyone will be surprise that this taut, sweaty, breathless section comes from Tom Ford.
Occasionally, we cut back to Amy Adams reading the book, taking off her glasses and shuddering. This story is hitting home and giving her yet another in a series of sleepless nights. “It’s violent and sad and he’s dedicated it to me,” she whispers, shocked.
Back in the novel, which is called Nocturnal Animals, a sheriff played brilliantly by Michael Shannon (“I look into things around here”) joins in the hunt. You’d certainly pay just to see this movie or read this novel itself. But the outer shell fascinates equally. Adams’s back story fills in, how she met her ex-husband (also played by the dependably excellent Gyllenhaal), and what happened to them, how she offended him brutally. We see this novel, long-gestating as it has been, is about revenge, both in the story and in its intended target.
But the film is also about art and the power it has to really shock. Adams’ gallery world peddles art but has ceased to feel it and appreciate its power. Now this book is reminding her how art can hurt, can unsettle and chill the bones.
I liked this film very much. It’s cold, certainly, and I’d love to have seen more of the ancillary characters, such as gay Carlos (played by Michael Sheen) and his blousy wife played by Andrea Riseborough, who hold a dinner party like something out of Woody Allen’s Sleeper. But my how it sizzles inside and leaves you smarting. An impressive work about how we pervert and soil human nature, a film with ice in its heart and fire in its soul.