Nocturnal Animals – Review (Toronto International Film Festival)

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Fashion icon Tom Ford follows up his superb debut film A Single Man with the equally sublime drama, Nocturnal Animals — packed with the same keen attention to detail, beautiful colours and chilling, yet delicate storytelling.

Ford’s second turn in Hollywood is a picture supported by its ultra talented A-List cast. Amy Adams stars as introspective art dealer Susan Morrow. She’s on her second marriage, worries that her mother’s cynicism has cursed her life and she can’t seem to squash thoughts of her first husband — struggling novelist Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Sheffield gifts Susan a sneak peek of his latest manuscript, aptly titled Nocturnal Animals. She opens the book to find its also been dedicated to her, escalating the emotional bedtime read towards a sinister dig through the past.

He uses his actors well, dropping them in a dreamlike world of exquisite colour, from the pale, blueish art havens inhabited by the bourgeoisie, to a Western-esque Texan outback

We embark on a double timeline of devastation, and revelation. Jumping between Susan’s current life with second husband, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer, who has been a pleasure to watch at TIFF this year, providing a double whammy with The Birth of a Nation), her imagining of Edwards book, and a series of flashbacks, encompassing the beginning and end of the couple’s union, one that spirals before turning pitch black.

Ford’s screenplay — adapted from the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright — is concise, never falling into cloudy territory like many films that explore a story within a story. He uses his actors well, dropping them in a dreamlike world of exquisite colour, from the pale, blueish art havens inhabited by the bourgeoisie, to a Western-esque Texan outback (featuring Michael Shannon as a menacing, and often hilarious police officer). While Susan delves deeper into Nocturnal Animals, it becomes clear this story is autobiographical. At its surface, the narrative centers around a man who loses everything by the hands of murderous thugs, but in reality, it’s a testament to her dismantling of Edward’s life. She is unsupportive, selfish, and ultimately, as her mother prophesies, not committed to a man of lesser status.

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Ford’s story hits us with the dangers of cracking interpersonal relationships, in which we think we’re following our hearts — how a rocky upbringing can impact a sacred union, how love often evaporates when time drags on and our — or our significant other’s — true motives materialize.

The people we swore to never become seem to latch on and destroy everything we thought so dear. And in the end, Ford’s vision is raw and human, for all its sharp style and haunting, creepshow music, Nocturnal Animals is a genuine experience, and a pleasure to watch.

What lingers is the cold-blooded art inspired by Susan’s wrongdoing. Just as she burns with regret, Edward’s novel lives among the ashes.

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About Nicholas Olsen

Nicholas Olsen is a journalist operating out of Toronto, Ontario. He has held a passion for movies ever since his father showed him Pulp Fiction back in the late 90s. Since then he's been devouring films whenever he can, using his background in writing to appreciate the arts on a critical level.

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