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The Inside Track on Tom Ford’s Thrilling New Film

Ahead of its national release, we decode Ford's sublime second feature – a dark, all-consuming thriller called Nocturnal Animals

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Nocturnal Animals
Film still, Nocturnal Animals, 2016

Tom Ford, the fashion designer, is a man driven by aesthetic, and by the notion of glamour prevailing. Tom Ford, the film director, makes storytelling his true art form. Never one to shy away from ambitious, often dangerous ideas both on and off the catwalk, his sophomore feature Nocturnal Animals is a complex romantic thriller about how the past can expose the damning truths of the present. In it, Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, an unfulfilled, wealthy art gallery owner who receives the manuscript for a novel by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The novel in question is called Nocturnal Animals, and it's dedicated to her. Having spent several years apart, long enough for Susan to remarry, Susan is shocked to discover how the violence in Edward's novel is a damning reflection of their shattered, complex relationship. Below, we pinpoint three observations from the movie.  

Ford is a Masterful Screenwriter 
Ford’s Oscar-nominated debut A Single Man (2009) delivered drama with a sumptuous dose of 1960s glamour, while Nocturnal Animals is set against the slick, scintillating backdrop of modern day Los Angeles. Ford manages to twist his source material, Austin Wright's 1993 novel Tony and Susan, into a psychological story within a story, unfolding in Susan's mind as she sits home alone at night reading the novel. On the surface, Edward's manuscript resembles a fairly typical Texas-set crime thriller, but Ford's seamless overlapping of this with narratives told through flashbacks of their past and Susan's imagination all point towards her and Edward's tumultuous, fractured relationship. Swapping between the bright white, well-preened art world and a dingy, almost dystopian Western murder tale in which Gyllenhaal also cleverly plays the tormented lead, most Hollywood screenwriters would struggle to deal with subjects as polarising as this. The fact that Ford can craft a script that's visceral and yet can still hold some cards close to his chest leaves us wondering: could this fashion designer be the first to win an Oscar for his talents with a script?

Art and Fashion Prevail Throughout
With the exception of a dazzling opening performance piece representing the gluttony of America, in which bodacious, nude women dance with twirling batons and pageant sashes against red sequin backdrops, none of the art in Nocturnal Animals – or the fashion, for that matter – is of Ford's creation. Rejecting the idea of 'made-up movie art' as false and unaffecting, Ford enlists his own favourite artists to adorn the interiors of Susan's gallery. Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog (Blue) stands proudly in the gallery courtyard, while Damien Hirst's striking bovine beauty Saint Sebastian, Exquisite Pain (2007), placed centre-stage inside the building, is examined with Susan's discerning eye. Costume designer Arianne Phillips sought assistance help from both Miu Miu and Prada to dress a stunning Amy Adams, alongside her small army of art aficionados. The fashion references are, understandably, a little bare in the Texas scenes, which are set inside the manuscript and Susan's imagination, but they do remind us of Ford's Western-inspired Autumn/Winter 2015 advertising campaign.

It's Dark, But Also Surprisingly Satirical... 
Much like Nicolas Winding-Refn's The Neon Demon (2016), Nocturnal Animals merges dark, topical themes with an element of satire – only Ford's nuanced scripts burrow it deeper into the film's fibre. For example, encounters with Susan's employees at the art gallery she runs reveal that she's surrounded by narcissists; men and women with faces full of collagen that are detached from the real world. While, in a short scene that sees her meet with another employee, Sage Ross (played brilliantly by Jena Malone), Ford makes a dig at the technology-obsessed, materialist generation. "Look," Sage says, handing her iPhone over to a dumbfounded Susan. "I can watch my daughter in her crib from this app on my phone." Befuddled by the strangeness of a baby seen in night vision ("Don't you trust your nanny?"), and then by the terrifying face that jumps in front of the lens in a sleep-deprived moment of psychosis, Susan drops Sage's phone, shattering the screen. "Don't worry," Sage assures her, "I'm getting the new model next week." Ford's ability to poke fun at L.A.'s often gaudy creative scene and the superficial figures who fill it proves he's an impressive filmmaker too.

Nocturnal Animals by Tom Ford hits screens in the UK from October 16, 2016. 

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