Director: Jon Watts
Starring: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Angourie Rice, Samuel L Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Martin Starr
It might seem odd to suggest that a studio that has dominated the global box office for the last decade and has just recently delivered the highest grossing film of all time could find themselves in a make or break situation. But that is kind of what Marvel Studios are looking at. Maintaining their stranglehold on audiences means reinforcing to everyone that Avengers: Endgame is the end of a chapter, not of the book, and as they venture into a new era for the franchise without Iron Man and Captain America, the two characters who have been their icons, Marvel – in conjunction with Sony -have turned to their traditional trump card: Spider-Man. So with Endgame still in cinemas, the Marvel Cinematic Universe marches on with Jon Watt’s Spider-Man: Far from Home, a film which serves as equal parts Endgame coda and introduction to the next stage of Marvel’s quest for world entertainment domination. Continue reading
Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
As news outlets cut back their staff and refuse to pay overtime, late night footage gathering has become the realm of private operators. Known as nightcrawlers or stringers, these police-chasing cameramen listen in to their police scanners for car accidents, drive-by shootings, armed robberies and homicides, aiming to be first on the scene so they can sell their footage to highest bidding news network. With his darkly satirical Nightcrawler, writer-director Dan Gilroy takes us into this peculiar subculture.
Louis Bloom is an unemployed hustler, making a living by stealing and selling scraps and building materials. One evening, he happens upon a horrific car accident on the freeway and is fascinated by the nightcrawler who pulls up, takes a few seconds of gory footage and then disappears into the night. Seeing an opportunity, Louis buys himself a video camera and a police scanner and sets off on his new career. A fast-talker who sounds like a mix between a self-help book and an infomercial, Louis convinces the naive and desperate Rich to come on board as an unpaid intern and before you know it he is the intriguing new player in the industry. But Louis’s ruthlessness and unchecked ambition sees him willing to cross ethical lines in the name of good footage, and what starts with moving some items to create more compelling shots soon becomes something much more dangerous.
This film is built around a compelling lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, who appears in every scene of the film. Not a hero but also not a villain, Louis Bloom manages to be equal parts disturbing and disarming. Louis is overly polite and uncomfortably intense in his friendliness. He is a lonely man in need of connection, but incapable of naturally achieving it. Having lost a significant amount of weight for the role, Gyllenhaal’s hollowed out features take on an animalistic quality which is matched by an unblinking intensity in his performance.
Nightcrawler doesn’t judge Louis. The film is less of an indictment of his character than it is of the system that rewards him. When Louis proudly delivers his first piece of footage to Channel 6, he is given the rundown from Nina Romani, the news director on the graveyard shift. White deaths are worth more than black deaths, wealthy is worth more than poor. What they want is urban crime creeping into the suburbs. The jackpot, he is told, is a wealthy white woman running down her suburban street, screaming having had her throat cut. This is ratings-driven news based on hype and hysteria. If a sociopath is defined by their lack of human empathy, surely the industry who lives off Bloom’s material is every bit at sociopathic as the man that gathers it.
Dan Gilroy is best known as a screenwriter and his screenplay here is really strong. What prevents this film from being just another anti-hero story is that Gilroy approaches his narrative from a different angle. He envisioned Louis Bloom’s story as a success story, in which an unemployed man, through his own determination and entrepreneurial spirit, founds his own business and builds it into a thriving company. As such, the film becomes a perverse take on the American capitalist dream.
An independently financed film with a budget small enough ($8.5 million) that it was free from the usual constraints and rules of Hollywood filmmaking, Nightcrawler is an unsettling but compelling piece of satire anchored by a brilliant lead performance.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Nightcrawler? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, Mario Bello, Viola Davis, Melissa Leo, Paul Dano
The compelling, morally complex mystery film Prisoners tells a story of child abduction in suburban Pennsylvania. Two families, the Kellers and the Birchs, come together for Thanksgiving lunch and are enjoying a lovely day until they realise that both of their youngest daughters are missing. When their search proves fruitless, the abrasive Detective Loki, a specialist in finding missing persons, is put on the case. However, the kidnapped girls are not the only prisoners the film’s title alludes to. While Detective Loki continues his investigation, Dover Keller takes things into his own hands. In his desperation he abducts an intellectually challenged man who he believes was involved in his daughter’s abduction and knows her whereabouts, and sets about trying to persuade him to speak by any means necessary. It is at this point that Prisoners ventures beyond the realms of a standard abduction mystery movie and becomes a statement on America in the post-9/11, war-on-terror era.
As America continued its search for Osama bin Laden in the latter part of last decade, details started to leak about the extreme persuasion tactics being employed at Abu Ghraib (tactics confronted on screen last year in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty) and American society was struck with a moral question. How far is it acceptable to go to get information if you believe it will save lives? In Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski confront that same question but put it on a smaller scale, personalising it. How far is it acceptable to go to get information if you believe it can save your daughter’s life?
It is this central moral question that makes Prisoners so painful and so compelling. Simultaneously we want Keller to stop because he might be wrong, but we want him to keep going because he might be right. What is the worse scenario in his mind: that he be wrong and as a result has tortured an innocent man, or that he be right and miss possibly the only opportunity to save his daughter’s life? As such Keller is at the same time the protagonist of the film and one of its chief antagonists. As we struggle to settle on our moral response to the actions being depicted, we are presented with another possible response by Nancy Birch, the mother of the other missing girl, who upon discovering what Keller is doing tells her husband, “We’re not going to help Keller, but we won’t stop him either. Let him do what he needs to.” Her reaction appears to be Villeneuve and Guzikowski’s indictment of an American administration and society that would turn a blind eye to things it could not stomach so long as the ends justified the means.
The first Hollywood film from French-Canadian director Villeneuve, Prisoners is a well-structured and executed mystery with strong performances from its principal cast, a number of whom are playing against their usual character types. For a savvy audience that is programmed to expect plot twists, Prisoners still manages to surprise you. There are some moments at which you feel like plot and character elements are missing –for example Gyllenhaal’s Detective Loki is quite an interesting character in terms of his mannerisms and presentation and you expect a backstory that is never forthcoming to explain why he is the way he is – but the film is none the less a gripping, intense mystery.
Rating – ★★★★
Review by Duncan McLean