Nocturnal Animals, the new movie from writer/director Tom Ford, has not only a provocative story an unusual structure. The first part of the follows Susan (Amy Adams), as she reconnects with her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who provides her with a manuscript to a novel he’s written that seems to be processing some of the issues they went through decades ago. So we get to know Susan and her circle of friends and acquaintances as a professional in New York City.
Susan’s story continues in the second part but the focus shifts to the story of the novel Tony wrote itself. That features Gyllenhaal playing the fictional Tony, a character in the book alongside a sheriff named Bobby (Michael Shannon) and others. The story has some uncomfortable elements for Susan to deal with and deals with some of the issues left over from their marriage and she begins to view it as a veiled threat, especially since the book is dedicated to her. Let’s see how it’s being sold.
The first posters were a series of character one-sheets, each one showing a different character but with the photo ripped, like pieces have been torn away from the poster as it hung on an outdoor wall. Presumably that affect speaks to the story in some way, but it’s not clear how other than maybe that it’s about facades being ripped away or torn down. Each one shows the actor’s name and that the movie was written and directed by Ford.
The theatrical one-sheet looks like a photo that’s starting to wear around the bottom. It’s an image of Adams’ face looking glistening and pristine but staring somewhat blankly toward the camera. Her face is somewhat translucent, with a shot of Gyllenhaal walking toward the camera, his face down for some reason. Below the cast list and title there’s the copy “When you love someone you can’t just throw it away,” so it’s being setup as some sort of highly-stylized love story here.
Wow, the teaser trailer is really something. Susan Morrow can’t sleep, is feeling strange because her ex-husband loosely based a book on her and is having strange dreams. That’s the framing device for the story of Tony (her ex) and Bobby (a Texas sheriff) and a strange scheme they have going. And that’s…yeah, that’s that.
It doesn’t sell a movie so much as it sells a style. Ford’s unique eye is all over here, especially in the framing of the shots featuring Adams in the apartment. The framing device for the story isn’t hinted at in the trailer, leaving a bit of confusion upon first viewing. And it really only dances around the story, basically presenting the movie as a look into the paranoia of Susan’s and the bad decisions she’s making to cope with it. Still…looks fascinating from a visual point of view if nothing else.
The official trailer opens with David and Susan running into each other but from there on out we’re back into non-linear storytelling. There are shots of the two of them together, other people warning Susan to stay away from him, her regretting the way they ended things and scenes from the crime and investigation out in the desert.
Like the first, it’s about setting up a visual look and feel for the movie more than helping us connect with the characters or care about the story. It just wants to dazzle us with the style and emotional pondering everyone’s going through, not tell us exactly what’s going on.
Online and Social
The movie’s official website opens with the second trailer playing. Close that and you’re taken to the main front page, which has full motion video in back of the title treatment, with a prompt to watch a clip and the movie’s Rotten Tomatoes score along the left of the page. On the right are links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles along with select quotes from early reviews.
There’s no real content menu to speak of, so it’s best to just start scrolling down the page. As you do so the first section you’ll find is “Video” and that’s where you can find the trailers, some clips and a few interviews. Keep going and up next is “Photos,” which has stills from the movie, some of which also contain links to bios on Adams and the other actors and talent involved and some of which are pulled from press photo shoots. That sort of blends in with the “Cast & Crew” section of the site as well.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
There’s nothing here I could definitively pin down, either in terms of online, TV or outdoor advertising. It’s pretty certain some paid promotion was done, but if so I haven’t seen it and can’t find it.
Media and Publicity
The movie was among those which debuted or otherwise screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. The movie screened at the Venice International Film Festival, where it picked up pretty positive buzz and was generally pegged as a solid, stylish outing from Ford as a director featuring a fantastic performance by Adams.
The Hollywood Reporter offered an extensive profile of Ford that allowed the director to not only talk about the movie but about the fashion industry in which he’s well-versed, his opinions on the movie business and much more.
This was one of two powerhouse performances at the festival by Adams, who emerged as the centerpiece of a lot of narratives during the festival for her understated and impressive acting. At Toronto the movie won the Silver Lion, bringing it even more accolades. And it gave Ford the chance to talk more about his approach to filmmaking.
Ford and Adams talked at the movie’s premiere about how they came to work together, the story they’re telling and more. Later on Aaron Taylor-Thompson, who plays one of the bad guys we meet in the “novel” half of the story, talked about taking on the grungy role and working with Ford.
Adams was making the talk show rounds for last week’s Arrival and this movie came along for that ride. Likewise Gyllenhaal appeared on various shows to talk about this movie and other projects.
This seems like a hard sell to the general public. It’s so cold and artsy that it’s certainly going to alienate vast swaths of the audience who are turned off by this campaign’s style and overall aesthetic, which puts a glossy sheen on everything while at the same time it shies away from presenting a linear narrative. That’s going to work for some, particularly those who have been following it since it debuted at TIFF and even before that. But for many outside that group, there’s nothing to get any purchase on.
In terms of the overall brand image presented here, there is a lot to like from a consistency standpoint. In fact what’s consistent about the branding is exactly the same materials and image that will turn many people off, the shock of red lipstick Adams sports, the scrupulous design attention paid to all the interiors and more. That all carries over from one element of the campaign to the other, showing that the style of the movie’s look is just as important, if not more so, than the substance of the story.