In 2009, fashion designer Tom Ford premiered his directorial feature debut, A Single Man, at the Venice Film Festival. Critics praised the film for its “potent emotional power,” Colin Firth’s performance, and “wrenching and ravishing” story. Seven years later, Ford returned to the festival this week to screen his second film, Nocturnal Animals with Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. Based on early reactions, it looks like the first effort wasn’t beginner’s luck.
Adapted by Ford from Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, the film tells of a Los Angeles art dealer (Adams) living an unfulfilled life. When her husband (Armie Hammer) leaves on a business trip, she receives a novel written by her ex-husband (Gyllenhaal) that reads as a violent revenge tale, perhaps even a veiled threat. The film then juggles Susan’s story with the book’s haunting content.
Isla Fisher, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon, and Laura Linney also feature among the cast.
Much as Firth was praised for A Single Man, Adams’ performance was a highlight of the reviews coming out of the festival, as well as Ford’s “intoxicating” and “noir” visuals. However, Nocturnal Animals garnered some criticism over its ending, which some claimed to be perplexing within the context of Ford’s vision.
Read more of what critics had to say about Nocturnal Animals below.
Variety – “Nocturnal Animals, which premiered today at the 73rd International Venice Film Festival, is a suspenseful and intoxicating movie — a thriller that isn’t scared to go hog-wild with violence, to dig into primal fear and rage, even as it’s constructed around a melancholy love story that circles back on itself in tricky and surprising ways.”
The Hollywood Reporter – “Confidently dovetailing three strands that depict present and past reality, as well as a dark fictional detour that functions as a blunt real-life rebuke, the film once again demonstrates that Ford is both an intoxicating sensualist and an accomplished storyteller, with as fine an eye for character detail as he has for color and composition.”
Indiewire – “Nocturnal Animals is perfectly simple in scene-to-scene but nigh impossible to get an overall hold on because it’s never clear to what extent we’re meant to take any of it ‘seriously.’ On one level, Ford really does try to make a straight-ahead Jim Thompson style potboiler, and he goes whole hog detailing that muscle car and Marlboro world. Ford’s work [is] never farcical or glib in those early confrontations between Tony and the roadside bullies. The slow build-up to the violence is genuinely frightening and it genuinely works.”
The Guardian – “It’s a movie with a double-stranded narrative – a story about a fictional story which runs alongside – and it pulls off the considerable trick of making you care about both equally, something I think The French Lieutenant’s Woman never truly managed. Ford has surely raised his game from his faintly wan and over-determined drama A Single Man from 2009. There is something much more uninhibited and even raucous about this picture, which combines melodrama with a kind of teasing sophistication.”
The Wrap – “The performances here are consistently superb, from Adams and Gyllenhaal (playing two very different roles) to Michael Shannon (as a Texas lawman), Laura Linney (getting an unforgettable scene as Susan’s mother, a monstrous Manhattan society matron) and Karl Glusman (Love, The Neon Demon) as one of the kidnappers. The real standout is Taylor-Johnson, so effectively creepy as the ringleader of the novel’s miscreants.”
TimeOut London – “Nocturnal Animals is blessed by remarkable photography by Seamus McGarvey (Atonement), who does exquisite work with barren rural vistas and soulless cityscapes. But Ford’s script, adapted from the Austin Wright novel Tony and Susan, fails to get to grips with the psychological complexities suggested by the story, swerving oddly in its focus and tone.”
The Playlist – “From its opening titles, a seeming riff on a James Bond credits sequence in which naked, overweight-to-obese ladies dance in slow motion wearing nothing but majorette-style accessories while glitter flies through the air and Abel Korzeniowski‘s shamelessly romance-and-intrigue-based score swirls and swoops deliriously, Tom Ford‘s Nocturnal Animals is a feast for the eyes and a fun-size Mars Bar for the brain.”
Nocturnal Animals will have a limited release beginning on Nov. 18 in Los Angeles and New York before going wide Dec. 9.