Tom Ford's 'Nocturnal Animals' is a Beautiful — and Brutal — 'Exploration of Masculinity'

"I subscribe to the old adage: write about what you know," says the designer-director.
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Ellie Bamber, Tom Ford, Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Robert Salerno and Jake Gyllenhaal at the Venice Film Festival. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Ellie Bamber, Tom Ford, Amy Adams, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Robert Salerno and Jake Gyllenhaal at the Venice Film Festival. Photo: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Before Tom Ford kicked off New York Fashion Week with his calendar-disrupting, see-now-buy-now show, the designer thrilled discerning movie critics and influencers at the Venice Film Festival premiere of his new movie, "Nocturnal Animals." (As in, there's already Oscar buzz months before the official premiere on Nov. 18.) Based on the book "Tony and Susan" by Austin Wright, the film is only the multi-talented designer's second effort in writing and directing, following his acclaimed "A Single Man" in 2009, which earned star Colin Firth a BAFTA Award and multiple nominations, including Oscar.

Just two days after his NYFW showing, Ford continued his multi-genre, hot-ticket streak at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday. The line for the 9 a.m. press and industry screening at the Princess of Wales Theatre wrapped around the block by 8:30 a.m. No one wanted to miss out on the story-within-a-story film about Susan Morrow (an amazing Amy Adams), a rich (on the surface) and unhappy woman who receives a manuscript written by her estranged ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (an also amazing Jake Gyllenhaal), who dedicated the novel to her. 

While Susan's sketchy husband Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer) is away for the weekend, she reads the book about Tony (below, also played by Gyllenhaal), which then plays out in the film. During a menacing, late-night road rage standoff, Tony stands by helplessly as his wife (played by Isla Fisher in a genius casting move, as she's oft-mistaken for Amy Adams) and daughter (Elie Bamber) are kidnapped by a trio of backwoods-y joyriders (including a terrifying Aaron Taylor-Johnson).

"One of the themes of the film that hit home personally for me was the exploration of masculinity in our culture. Our heroes Tony and Edward do not possess the stereotypical traits of masculinity that our culture often expects, yet in the end they both triumph," Ford says in a statement. "As a boy growing up in Texas, I was anything but what was considered classically masculine and I suffered for it. I empathize with the characters of Tony and Edward and their perseverance speaks to me."

Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony (middle) and Michael Shannon as Bobby Andes (right). Photo: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony (middle) and Michael Shannon as Bobby Andes (right). Photo: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Like "A Single Man," "Nocturnal Animals" is visually stunning with beautiful, lush cinematography and saturated colors that you just want to luxuriate in — from Susan's moody, dark eye makeup, lip and vampy nails (essentially her armor) to the parched, sun-drenched desolate desert as Tony desperately searches for help at dawn. The color red was noticeably consistent throughout flashback scenes of 20-something Edward and Susan, a bright billboard in the otherwise sand-hued desert, symbolic furniture (no spoilers here) and Adams's, Fisher's and Bamber's distractingly gorgeous ginger hair.

For his sophomore movie-making outing, Ford reassembled key players from his 2009 movie-making team, including costume designer Arianne Phillips, who received a BAFTA nomination for "A Single Man." 

"[Her] eye is flawless," says Ford in the statement. "I often find myself asking Arianne questions on set about performance, shot angles and many other things as she is not only a talented costume designer — and to my mind, one of the best — but she has great judgement and taste. Her opinion is always invaluable to me."

Amy Adams as Susan Morrow. Photo: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

Amy Adams as Susan Morrow. Photo: Merrick Morton/Focus Features

As one might expect from a film with both Phillips, who also creates concert tour looks for Madonna, and a renowned fashion designer behind the scenes, the costumes skillfully support the both physically and emotionally brutal (especially at 9 a.m.) tale. From Susan's immaculate and also armor-like art-gallerist wardrobe to Detective Bobby Andes's (Michael Shannon, above far right) cowboy-lawman corduroy jacket and hat ensemble to Susan's Texan socialite mother's (a gloriously bouffant-ed Laura Linney) layered pearl and Chanel-esque skirt suit. Actually, the look is probably Chanel considering Ford thanked the fashion house and Karl Lagerfeld, plus a litany of other fashion designers, including Alexander Wang, Fausto Puglisi and Proenza Schouler in his liner notes.

To adapt Wright's 1993 novel to modern day, Ford took creative license in changing the location of the harrowing story-within-the-story to stay relevant to our millennial reliance on (and addiction to) smartphones. The move is interestingly in line with Ford's frustration with smartphone- and social media-fueled thirst for immediacy from the media (and the public) when it comes to showing his fashion collections. After all, in a power move, the designer banned photographers from his super-secret spring 2011 runway and decided to show his fall 2016 collection in fall 2016 — beating the 'grammers and Snapchatters to their game.

"I chose to locate the story in West Texas — the original story takes place in the Northeast — as there are still places there where one could imagine that there would be no cell service," says Ford, who spent his childhood in the Longhorn state. "It is also a part of the world that I know well, and I subscribe to the old adage: write about what you know."

Click through the gallery below for character posters:

"Nocturnal Animals" opens on Nov. 18.

Disclosure: Canada Goose paid for my travel and accommodations to attend and cover the Toronto International Film Festival.

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