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Sunday, 18 January 2015

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Nightcrawler

Directed by: Dan Gilroy

Produced by: Jennifer Fox
Tony Gilroy
Michel Litvak
Jake Gyllenhaal
David Lancaster

Screenplay by: Dan Gilroy

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal
Rene Russo
Riz Ahmed
Bill Paxton

Music by: James Newton Howard

Cinematography by: Robert Elswit

Editing by: John Gilroy

Studio: Bold Films

Distributed by: Open Road Films

Release date(s): October 31, 2014 (United States and United Kingdom)

Running time: 117 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $8.5 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $38, 448, 376

For those of you who ain't been keeping track, this is my last review for the November-December bracket, and then I'll be following it up with a review for the month(s) before I swiftly proceed into January. In case you've been under a rock, awards season is officially well under way, what with the Golden Globes having been and gone. On that note, the Globes as ever proved to be shambolic in it's own way. Amy Adams, who I like very much, won Best Actress (Musical or Comedy) for her portrayal of Margaret Keane in Big Eyes, which last I checked was a drama (I should know, I've seen the film, so a review will be coming soon...), and The Grand Budapest Hotel won Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). I know it's entirely based on opinion and I'm in the minority here, but we're only one down in the big three (Globes, BAFTAs and Oscars) and I'm already sick and tired of The Grand Budapest Hotel. I said in my review, there are things to admire, but it's a stylistically overwhelming and highly self-indulgent film undeserving of the accolades it is receiving. To see that this film got eleven nominations for the BAFTAs (the most nominations a film received this year) over masterpieces such as Gone Girl and Under The Skin is a crying shame. Anywho, excusing my rant, business on this front is good, and I've so far for January seen the aforementioned Big Eyes, The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, Exodus: God And Kings, The Wind Rises, Oculus and The Theory Of Everything, plus there'll be more in the mix, so, with that being said, for all the latest and greatest as regards to the movies, keep your eyes posted!

Today's film up for review is Nightcrawler, which has come onto the radar primarily due to the prominence of acclaim for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance. In case you're unaware I'm a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal. I've admired his work since I first saw him in Richard Kelly's magnificent debut Donnie Darko playing the titular outcast. Since then, from The Day After Tomorrow (which in fairness was terrible) to Brokeback Mountain to Zodiac, he really grew up as far as performance is concerned. Now, over the past five years he has been on as hot a streak as any actor working in Hollywood, nabbing lead roles in Prince Of Persia, Love And Other Drugs, Source Code and End Of Watch, plus giving a magnificent supporting turn as Detective Loki in last year's Prisoners (for which he won my R. Lee Ermey Award for Best Supporting Role by a Male Actor). The other most notable player in terms of the context around Nightcrawler is that it is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, a longtime screenwriter (he also wrote the screenplay for this picture) who has worked most notably of late with his brother, writer-director Tony Gilroy of Michael Clayton and the Jason Bourne series fame. Interestingly, with Nightcrawler Dan uses many of the same collaborators who are regular players with brother Tony, who has a producer credit here, including cinematographer Robert Elswit, composer James Newton Howard and editor John Gilroy, their brother and Dan's fraternal twin (yeah, lotta Gilroys!). I should also mention on a quick side note that I saw this way back in November, and the reason I've kept from reviewing it for nearly two months is because I saw it in The Strand, and unfortunately there was a consistent level of booming coming from the sound in the neighbouring screen playing Christopher Nolan's colossus Interstellar. I felt that those occasional interruptions were punctuating my viewing of the film and that I needed some time to reflect upon the movie so as to interpret my genuine opines. I'll keep it quick with the plot synopsis, because as a thriller, much of the enjoyment is derived in finding out what happens as it goes along. In all sincerity, I'd recommend it as an unwritten rule to go into movies cold if you can. Anywho, the story follows Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a thief who after seeing a freelance film crew at the scene of a car crash, is inspired to start shooting footage of accidents and crime scenes all over Los Angeles, selling it to news channels, in particular to Nina (Rene Russo), the morning news director of a local TV station, who encourages him to continue his work. Got it? Good!

To start off with the good, and get the main talking point out of the way, Jake Gyllenhaal's central performance is extraordinary. He doesn't so much play the role as completely embody the character of Lou Bloom in every way shape or form. To my shame, I can't forget who it was that said it, but someone made a great point, in that what you see over the course of the film is the evolution of a predator. He starts off the movie a shady, slivering cretin, who, finding his calling in life, gradually puts the pieces together, not only of the story, but also of himself. It's also a step away for Gyllenhaal, in that one of his prevailing qualities as an actor is his charm and ability to connect with an audience. Here, there is nothing redeeming about his personality, and at times it is flabbergasting to listen Gyllenhaal gab away, rather eloquently I might add, these big monologues which unveil him as nothing less than a master manipulator. His Lou Bloom is, in many ways, the ultimate sociopath; charismatic, self-serving, determined, and most importantly, fully able to function in everyday life in a manner as pervasive as it's effect upon the viewer. In a stellar career which, as I mentioned upon his winning my award for Best Supporting Male for Prisoners last year, is still young, this might well be his best performance to date. Matching him in a terrific supporting turn is Rene Russo, who I haven't seen for quite a while but gives her best screen performance as Nina. A vibrant yet powerful and intimidating presence, she's more than a match for Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom, and in a part which is key to the narrative, she too evolves over the course of the picture. We see how she begins the film very much in control, and as Bloom plies craft, manipulating her, often sexually, she reveals a painful vulnerability, and at times a complicity towards it, informing the viewer just how twisted things are getting. Then of course you have Riz Ahmed, who hopefully with the strength of his part as Lou's assistant Rick gets more work Stateside. He informs the viewer of the immorality of Lou and keeps us grounded in the realm of reality as things begin to go off the wall. But he is far more than a device, and Ahmed gives Rick the genuine empathy and pathos crucial to our looking at him as more than just 'the other guy.' Notwithstanding the performers, but the other main reason we are able to look at all of these characters this way is because of the strength of Dan Gilroy's script. Lou Bloom is an iconic creation in it's own right, but all of the supporting characters around him are fleshed out and three-dimension people that you can fully believe exist. Also, he has a superb ear for sharp dialogue. Lou's convoluted, sprawling monologues are a marvel to behold, if only for rhetoric sake. There is a painstaking, meticulous quality to them, right down to the placement of words in a given sentence. Along with the central concept, being that the film essentially follows a gonzo paparazzo, who for all intents and purposes could be a bounty-hunter in a Western (and an antagonist), the film is rich in thematic content. For a film that doesn't feature much 'violence' per se, the tension and layered subtext emerges from the transgressive material. What does it say about us as a viewer, marvelling in the complexity of Lou Bloom's voyeurism as we gaze through his camera (the proverbial looking glass) and observe all around us? Are we active participants in these scenes or merely complicit observers? Furthermore, we're not battered on the head with this stuff or belittled a la Funny Games, but engaged in an entertaining manner that still retains it's artistry. As I mentioned, Nightcrawler's main crew shares a number of collaborators who have worked in the past on Dan Gilroy's brother Tony's pictures, and their contributions into Dan's directorial debut cannot be overlooked. Veteran DP and Academy Award winner Robert Elswit shoots a terrific looking picture which is reflective not only of the crisp clarity which is almost an inherent trait of his cinematography but also aesthetically in keeping with the project. Many of the stills from the film are beautifully textured images in their own right, taken out of the context of the bigger picture. Indeed, the picture's look, though distinct, is not dissimilar to that of 2011's Drive, without the extreme colour contrast and stylised lighting. The close-ups and profiles of Gyllenhaal really emphasise and highlight his performance, so that even in his rare moments of silence, the face of Lou Bloom speaks a thousand words. Also, for a DP who has such a crisp efficiency to his work, it's interesting how well he manages to easily slide into and appropriately capture the immediacy of the footage that Lou Bloom shoots. You've also got John Gilroy in the editing suite, which is perhaps rather fitting, being the writer-director's twin, who seems to know exactly what his brother wants. Nightcrawler is the kind of movie that in the hands of less-skilled people could have become a lot more sprawling, and in doing so probably would have been quite boring. However, John Gilroy manages to cut as much of it down with a fine tooth-comb as he can, keeping things tight and breezy. Despite pushing two hours and dealing with at times tough subject matter, Nightcrawler flies in and is an indisputably easy watch. James Newton Howard is also on board as the composer of the film's music, his work setting and maintaining the tone. For those of you who don't know, Newton Howard is one of the most prolific of contemporary film composers, reported to be a quick worker. Earlier in the year, I reviewed Maleficent and said that his score sounded rather "phoned-in," but that perhaps the studio didn't care much how it sounded as long as there was a score there. I don't know the man's attitudes, maybe he cares about his work, maybe it's just a job, but hey, the point is here with Nightcrawler you wouldn't be able to tell because it's a fine score. This is in many ways classical film composing, but Newton Howard does it well, and this is something keeps the film's juices flowing, the blood pumping, and the pulse is maintained consistency. Moving effortlessly between minimalist, almost downtempo pieces which are meditative but with an air of intrigue and mystery to faster, more driving sounds which gradually quicken the pace, this is an accomplished bit of film scoring and composition. The final thing I have to say is that although I've mentioned Dan Gilroy's script, I have failed thus far to compliment his obvious skills as a director. All of the various elements are brought together under his watchful gaze, and what comes of this collaborative effort is one of the most consistent and engaging movies of 2014. In the hands of another filmmaker, this could have been all about the script (Lord knows, we've had plenty writer-director indulgence pieces, cough, Wes Anderson, cough!) or completely Gyllenhaal's performance, but just about every portion of the film is well-developed and nobody tries to steal the show. Dan Gilroy proves with his debut to be someone with very capable hands, and on the basis of his assured, confident direction, that anything with his name on it in the future is worthy of garnering this reviewer's interest.

Now, in case you haven't gathered by now, which if you haven't I must say I do doubt your abilities of perception, I loved Nightcrawler, and yes, I would go so far as to say that it's a masterpiece. What a fine year 2014 was for thrillers, getting this, Gone Girl, and even Under The Skin is to some extent a thriller, although definitely more science-fiction. Three masterpieces. Wow! However, I have to say that Nightcrawler is the lesser of those three films, and now I shall tell you why. Once again though, it's one of those cases were I will end up sounding like a cop-out and talking about feeling, as opposed to there being anything technically wrong with the film. There isn't, and out of those three it is certainly the most consistently strong, but it does fail slightly to reach just quite their peaks. The big feeling though in terms of this though is that I know there will be people positively alienated by the film. Lou Bloom is one of the most loathsome protagonists ever to grace the big screen, and I think that he will be rejected outright by some viewers. At least Malcolm McDowell's Alex in A Clockwork Orange had a great degree of joyous charm to him, even in the midst of his adventures of rape and ultra-violence; Lou Bloom doesn't even have that, and is the kind of person you could imagine kicking a baby if he thought that it's flying body would make good footage. While I personally do not have a problem with the character (I love it!), there will be people who do, especially as he is the central figure in the film.

So, despite the fact that I feel that the character of Lou Bloom will alienate some people, I thought Nightcrawler was perhaps the most consistently strong of the films I have seen from 2014 so far. Jake Gyllenhaal's extraordinary lead performance is the best lead part of the year, Dan Gilroy's script is so rich, dense and multi-faceted, and each of his primary collaborators, Robert Elswit, John Gilroy and James Newton Howard, do great jobs in their respective departments as DP, editor and composer. It's an assured, confident directorial debut from Dan Gilroy, who proves himself to be more than capable of fronting a film in the big chair as he is at the writer's desk. Granted, I have a whole month's worth left to get through before Oscar season (more of which in the coming month and a half), but I'd be surprised if Nightcrawler wasn't among my top five films of the year by the time I wrap this thing up.

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.0/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Dead on (looking forward to getting through this glut of movies!)

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