UPDATE, WRITETHRU with press conference comments after 3:41 AM post: Tom Ford’s sophomore feature effort, Nocturnal Animals, positively drips with the fashion designer/director’s flair — and what better place to debut it than at this most glamorous of events? The story has substance to spare underneath that style and screened for the press this morning at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. From the opening sequence of the Amy Adams/Jake Gyllenhaal-starrer, the packed Sala Darsena was instantly hooked during a slo-mo burlesque sequence that features a series of heavy-set older women sporting only red sashes, tiaras and gloves. At the debrief following the screening, Ford said the opening was designed to “emphasize the absurdity of our contemporary world… I also wanted to grab your attention.”
That he did. From the opening, it might be anybody’s guess where the movie is going, but it’s clearly Ford’s world and the room was rapt through three interwoven time- and storylines to an ending, which I won’t spoil, but which certainly may stir debate. Applause was sustained and enthusiastic.
The noir thriller was the subject of a $20M world rights deal in Cannes last year with Focus Features taking domestic and Universal handling overseas. I ran into Focus Chairman Peter Kujawski and President Robert Walak as we were on our way into the screening this morning. The pair had not yet seen the film with an audience, and when we hooked up two hours later, they were beaming. Walak told me that being in the packed room as the movie unspooled was “like uncorking a fine wine.”
Adams and Gyllenhaal lead an impressive cast that includes Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer and with a key cameo by Laura Linney.
The film is based on Austin Wright’s novel Tony And Susan which Ford adapted. It focuses on Susan (Adams), an art gallery owner who is haunted by the novel her ex-husband Edward (Gyllenhaal) has written and unexpectedly sent to her. Unhappy in her present marriage and vacuous life in Los Angeles — the biting art-world critiques hit all the right notes with the audience — she reads the violent thriller over a handful of nights. The audience follows along with the novel’s gritty West Texas story playing out on screen and with Edward as the lead character, Tony. He has titled the book Nocturnal Animals and dedicated it to Susan who, when not reading, revisits her relationship with him in flashback.
Ford’s view on the importance of the novel within the story is that it is “explaining the pain this man felt when (Susan) left him. It’s all twisted together.” Each of the threads “are really one story emotionally.”
In just the few minutes after the film ended, there was already awards buzz. Reviews have been glowing and Twitter spilled over with praise: “a wonder,” “elegant,” “sumptuous.”
Ford’s debut feature, 2009’s A Single Man was also a Venice premiere and won the AFI Movie of the Year Award with an Oscar nomination and a BAFTA Best Actor prize for lead Colin Firth. Ford told reporters this afternoon that he is hoping to get back to filmmaking with less of a gap than the last time. “I’m sorry it was seven years!”
He explained that part of his motivation for Nocturnal was that “Loyalty is very important to me. When you find those people in your life, you hang onto them. This is a cautionary tale about what can happen when you do let go.”
Neither he nor the actors were quick to call this a revenge story and that may be one of the gray areas where audiences will have to decide for themselves. Gyllenhaal said, “I don’t know if I believe in that word and I don’t know that this is a movie about revenge. I know deep inside when you tell someone what is inside, it’s about love.” Adams said, “I don’t know if revenge is very satisfying,” although she allowed, “the thought of it makes me feel better.”
Focus is releasing Nocturnal Animals smack into awards season in an exclusive domestic engagement on November 18. It then expands the day before Thanksgiving, November 23, before going wide on December 9.
Adams — who’s having a busy Venice following yesterday’s well-received Arrival — will be on the red carpet tonight with Gyllenhaal, Taylor-Johnson and multihyphenate Ford who has to quickly hightail to to New York Fashion Week, and then up to Toronto.