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We may not have to wait to get our hands on Tom Ford’s latest collection — the decadent designs were available immediately following his splashy show at New York Fashion Week — but he certainly made us wait long enough for a follow-up to A Single Man, his acclaimed directorial debut from 2009. It seems that the wait was worthwhile.
With Nocturnal Animals, which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, the designer-cum-director solidifies his singular directorial vision, with each frame meticulously aestheticized and surreal flashbacks and daydreams par for the course. For all the style, however, substance is not sacrificed. Adapted from Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, the film weaves together two unsettling narratives to paint a haunting portrait of a middle-aged woman in turmoil.
That woman, Susan, is a gallery owner played by Amy Adams, who finds herself wrapped up in a novel, written by her ex-husband, which appears to be a chilling metaphor for the dissolution of their marriage. As we bounce between Susan’s past, present and even the depths of her imagination, she gradually becomes undone. It’s a complex, demanding role, and Ford, despite his exacting methods, leaves it in the capable hands of his star.
“[Tom] has this attention to detail that is, as of course we all know, very meticulous and exquisite, but he was able to take that attention to detail, execute that and let us play in this very amazing world he created,” Adams says. Juxtaposed against Ford’s impossibly beautiful universe, Adams’s raw performance is even more enthralling. “It was fun to get to create this vulnerable, emotional person within this veneer of perfection.”
Ford is right to trust his actors; his casting has been masterful. It’s hard to go wrong with Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, whom he cast for A Single Man, but in that film he also helped broker Nicholas Hoult’s transformation from that hot guy in the UK teen show “Skins” to one of Hollywood’s most sought after young actors. This time around, Adams is joined by Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who portrays one of the characters imagined by Adams’s Susan.
“The role, for me, was really quite challenging,” Taylor-Johnson admits. “It wasn’t in my comfort zone.” Though he is known for playing the introspective nice guy (even as a superhero in Kick-Ass) Taylor-Johnson’s Ray Marcus is, as he puts it, “this very charming, charismatic, magnetic guy who’s unpredictable and therefore really dangerous.” But Ford’s casting is never without purpose and, given the range offered by a character who’s unbounded by reality, the director’s endorsement could add new dimensions to Taylor-Johnson’s IMDb page in the future.
With only two films under his belt, Ford has already established his own cinematic signature. When Adams tells me her character “lives in a very Tom Ford world,” I know exactly what she means. Becoming one of the few self-defined filmmakers of this generation is no small feat, especially for a man who also continues to create headlines in the notoriously fickle fashion industry.
If it seems like a Tom Ford world is too beautiful to be true, consider that he actually lives it. “He’s the meaning of the word ‘gentleman,'” says Taylor-Johnson. “Tom Ford is not a let down. And he smells good, too.”