Nocturnal Animals tells the story of a wealthy art gallery owner who is haunted by her ex-husband's novel. Juxtaposing the cold, artistic reality of a divorcee, now remarried and alienated, with the dusty, gritty world of a self-reflecting novel, we experience a dark, disconcerting and tense atmosphere.
Tom Ford's A Single Man is a conventional drama by contrast... both films have style, both are enhanced by strong performances, except it seems as though Ford is taking a page from David Lynch. Switching between a surreal reality and a novel reflecting a symbolic rehash of a failed relationship, we try to make sense of a woman's current turmoil and the events that led to her divorce.
This drama is loaded with first-class actors. While Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal essentially drive each of their worlds, they're supported by Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Adams delivers a strong performance as a jaded woman suffering pangs of nostalgia, a role that underlines her Oscar nomination for Arrival. Gyllenhaal has established himself as a dependable and bankable actor, whose dark drama empire continues its steady expansion with a more vulnerable turn in Nocturnal Animals.
Shannon is the real deal... an actor who's so committed to the craft that it's become a battle with himself rather than awards season. Then, to top off an already strong ensemble we have Aaron Taylor-Johnson who's almost unrecognisable in the kind of dangerous and unwieldy performance you'd expect from someone of Sam Rockwell's calibre.
While Adams and Gyllenhaal deliver the sort of quality performances we've come to expect from them, the scene-stealing is left to Shannon and Taylor-Johnson. Shannon's small town "Sheriff" role is beautifully controlled and he slips into the performance behind the moustache and drawl of a seasoned campaigner. Taylor-Johnson is more unpredictable, delivering a wacky performance, which leaves us on edge as he commandeers one of the film's most suspenseful scenes. His despicable, self-contained and psychotic alter-ego keeps the atmosphere electric.
We're mesmerised by the visuals and entranced by the vivid performances, but this is a case of style over substance. Ford's visual poety is compelling and he creates some truly tense moments, but the storytelling does seem somewhat scattered like the last traces of a dream. The experimental slant and unsettling violence certainly keeps you on edge, but the story doesn't hold together as beautifully as the visuals would have you believe. It's a must for Lynchland fans and will appeal to fans of the strong ensemble, who deliver maniacal charm and fire.
The bottom line: Spellbinding