I have just seen an advance screening of Tom Ford's 'Nocturnal Animals'. Having greatly admired his debut film, 'A Single Man' I went along with hesitant expectations. I say hesitant because second films can often be weak. But not this one. It is a fantastically taught thriller wonderfully shot by cinemaphotographer Seamus McGarvey. It has the same meticulous detail as 'A Single Man' demonstrating Ford's uncompromising love of getting things just right.
Adapted by Ford from the novel 'Tony and Susan' by Austin Wright. it is a story within a story.
The main character, Susan a wealthy LA art dealer and gallery owner (pitch-perfectly played by Amy Adams) receives a package containing a manuscript. It is a novel written by her former husband, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she hasn't seen for 16 years. While her current husband, Walker (Armie Hammer) is away on a business trip, (but actually is having an affair), she starts to read the manuscript and the film switches to the story in the novel.
A husband, Edward, (also played by Gyllenhaal) wife and daughter set off in their car on vacation across a remote desert area. Later on a lonely stretch of highway in the pitch of darkness, they are confronted by two cars ahead of them spanning both lanes. Wanting to overtake Edward sounds the horn. One of the cars moves over and he is allowed to pass. But immediately headlights flare up in the rearview mirror and the two vehicles pursue aggressively, in what becomes and incredibly tense and horrid series of events that I won't reveal here.
The film cleverly switches from present to Susan's past married life with Tony and is interwoven with the novel. It incorporates a conventional musical score by Abel Korzeniowski, verging on the feel of Bernard Hermann in Hitchcock mode. There are echo's of 'Straw Dogs', 'Deliverance', 'Blood Simple' and 'Duel' present, demonstrating Ford's love of cinema. And thank God it has a very un-American ending.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of his best performances and I can already feel the Oscar nominations on the horizon for both him, Tom Ford and Seamus McGarvey. I loved it.
If I had one gripe it was the opening title sequence. Three grossly obese women, reminiscent of Lucian Freud's 'Benefits Supervisor Sleeping' and Jenny Saville's work,
Lucian Freud's 'Benefits Supervisor Sleeping'
Painting by Jenny Saville
dance fully naked on podiums, all filmed in slow motion so that the excessive rolls of fat and slack skin flop backwards, forwards and up and down like jelly. I found it uncomfortably voyeuristic. At the Q&A after the screening, Tom Ford commented on the sequence saying that he found the 3 women so joyful, full of life and beautiful. Well, I leave you to be the judge of that when and if you see the film.
Here's the trailer.