This is a sensational pitch black character piece that allies a powerful script with violent social satire; all glued together by an Oscar-worthy lead performance from the ever-excellent actor Jake Gyllenhaal.
It’s about monsters. The monster of ambition. The monster of obsession. The monster of humanity. The monster of the Media. The monster of a bloodthirsty public searching for the next violent clip to trend or share on Twitter or Facebook over their morning coffee. Gyllenthaal plays the main monster: Lou Bloom. He’s an anti-anti-anti-hero of our times. A personification of capitalist evil.
Dan Gilroy’s cutting script makes no attempt to make him likeable or even sympathetic. We first meet him stealing scrap metal and beating the crap out of a Security Guard. He then has the balls to try and get a job at the yard he’s selling stolen goods to. So why was I immediately enthralled by Lou Bloom? Well, he has ambition. He has drive. He has linguistic charisma. He has a thirst for success. A thirst for money. And a thirst for blood.
Lou Bloom is a vampire – a night creature creeping between the shadows and he finds the perfect vehicle for his nefarious wants. He discovers he can make money filming car wrecks and violent crimes on the streets of Los Angeles and sell them to a local News station. His TV handler Nina (Rene Russo) takes him under her wing but it’s not long before Bloom is taking flight and manipulating her to his own needs.
With the smooth patter and greasy complexion of a snake-oil salesmen Bloom extends his operation by taking on down-on-his-luck Rick (Riz Ahmed) and competes on the dark, mean streets of LA with veteran ‘crawler’ Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). Bloom will stop at nothing to achieve his expansion goals. The drama really cranks up as he races to record one gut-churning tragedy after another eventually manufacturing violence to his own gain. These guys are filming and selling death – with echoes of Michael Powell’s classic horror film Peeping Tom (1956) – and WE the voyeuristic public are buying it.
I enjoyed the fact that Bloom was a ghost; a shell of a man with little in the way of backstory and yet through his actions we absorb the horror of his character. I was drawn in so much by Gyllenthaal’s magnetic performance as well as a fine supporting cast. Incredibly this is a DEBUT film from respected Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy. However, he directs with aplomb and the end shoot-out and car-chase was a memorable piece of filmmaking – full of tension – with a quite breath-taking pay-off.
I loved this film. It takes the idea of the News Media as not merely objective representatives of fact but rather sensationalist manipulators where murder has become a natural by-product of their lust for ratings. Films such as Gone Girl (2014) and Anchorman 2 (2013) have examined darkly and humorously the role of TV News in society recently but the stylish neo-noir Nightcrawler trumps them. Through Bloom the parasitic press and public are shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. WE ARE ALL MONSTERS AT HEART!
To accompany the list of my most entertaining films I saw last year I’ve also compiled a few nominations for best this and that!
**** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ****
BEST PHOTOGRAPHY – ONLY GOD FORGIVES (2013) What it lacks in plot it makes up with one incredibly designed scene after another. And the violence is something else!
MOST HEART-WRENCHING SCENE – FLIGHT (2012) The film opens with a tremendously staged plane crash. However, the scene where Denzil battles a miniature bottle of booze has almost more riding on it dramatically. Tension, suspense and the agony of human frailty are all in this scene. The moment we’ve all been through where we are battling our demons and trying to do the right thing is centre to the scene. Will Denzil pick up the bottle? Will the angels or demons win out?
BEST CINEMATIC EXPERIENCE – GRAVITY (2013) All I can say is wow! This film was just wow! Some have criticized a lack of plot and characterisation but this is a movie which just takes your breath away. As I said, wow!
MOST BEAUTIFUL SCENE – RUST & BONE (2012) Marion Cotillard’s Killer Whale trainer reconnects with nature in this serene moment from a compelling drama. It’s a beautiful moment for the audience visually and also the character.
BEST ENDING/BEST CAST – CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013) Whether the film is truth or fiction Tom Hanks’ acting throughout is superb. He’s none better than in the final scene when he reaches the medical bay. The way he releases the tension it so memorable. His co-star Barkhad Abdi has to get an Oscar nod too for Best Supporting Actor.
BEST MOVIE PLOT + TWIST – SIDE EFFECTS (2013) This film genuinely pulls the rug from underneath your feet! Fantastic storytelling! It starts seemingly as a critique of the pharmaceutical industry but then becomes a nasty, lurid Hitchcockian thriller with great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara.
BEST BRITISH FILM – BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (2012) Both a tribute to Italian Horror and the Foley Artist this is a disturbing arthouse horror which generates its’ scares through the sound. You think you’ve seen something scary but haven’t. Incredibly constructed and recommended for cinephiles all over.
BEST GAG – ANCHORMAN 2
I couldn’t find a clip but Brian Fantana’s gag was the funniest joke I heard at the cinema all year. The News Team’s attempt at 24 hour News has seemingly failed and in the scene Brian is asked what he will do next. He replies:
“I’m going to cruise round with my friends O.J. Simpson, Robert Burke and Phil Spector. We call ourselves the LadyKillers!”
BEST MOVIE SOUNDTRACK – WORLD’S END (2013) Pegg and Wright’s highly entertaining apocalyptic comedy is touching, action-packed and amusing. It gets a bit silly by the end but there’s a great energy and some funny dialogue and physical humour throughout. The soundtrack is a cracker featuring the Stone Roses, Primal Scream, Sisters Of Mercy and the Soup Dragons to name just a few. It’s like the perfect Indie Disco in the cinema!
BIGGEST MOVIE LET-DOWN – MAN OF STEEL (2013) A great cast and stupendous effects could not save the broken-backed Superman story crash and burn. Henry Cavill was a terrific Kal-El but the filmmakers ruined the whole piece by cramming too much into a few hours of screen time and not allowing the cast, characters or story to breathe. It was sensory overload and bogged down with too much exposition. The Batman v. Superman film under Zack Snyder’s direction could possibly signal the end of the comic book boom of recent time. The bubble is going to burst at some point I tells ya!
FILM MOST F*CKED BY THE CRITICS – LONE RANGER (2013)
This mega-budget update of the old radio/TV show from yesteryear was nowhere near as bad as the critics made out. It followed the ‘PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN’ template but perhaps the problem was Johnny Depp playing deadpan rather than drunken Pirate. The critics didn’t go for it and nor did the audience as it kind of bombed as well. However, Gore Verbinski directed with verve and energy and the final set-piece on the train is one of the best action sequences of the year.
BEST SCREEN CHEMISTRY – SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (2012)
I was tempted to say BREAKING BAD but Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence were electric in David O. Russell’s bipolar romantic drama/comedy. The whole cast were great in fact including Robert DeNiro as the bookie father and Chris Tucker as a friend of Cooper’s character. But Cooper and Lawrence made the film their own with their portrayals of damaged but very human couple finding each other in a crazy world.
BEST MOVIE WITHOUT A SCRIPT – WORLD WAR Z – (2013) Brad Pitt’s travelogue around the World avoiding a zombie plague was actually really entertaining in places with some great set-pieces but it had a lousy script with essentially no story or plot. They genuinely feel like they’re making it up as they’re going along. Having said all that I really enjoyed it at the cinema even though Pitt was miscast and this really needed a decent action-hero like Schwarzenegger in his prime to really boost the movie.
BEST FEMALE ARCHER – THE HOBBIT 2 (2013)
I love an action women especially one with a bow and arrow and this award came down to a toss-up between Jennifer Lawrence in HUNGER GAMES 2 and Evangeline Lilly. In the end I came down on the side of Tauriel the Elf in Peter Jackson’s behemoth production of THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG. Jumping, spinning and diving about firing and killing Orcs for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What a woman!
BEST DOUBLE ACT – RUSH (2013) RUSH was indeed a big rush cinematically but the casting of Daniel Bruehl as cool Nikki Lauda and Chris Hemsworth as fiery James Hunt motored this movie along off the track too. The characterizations dealt solely in binary but provided much entertainment along the way. Of course Ron Howard and his creative team served up some wicked action as well.
BAD-ASSEST REVENGE – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012)
Tarantino’s fantasy Western saw Jamie’s Foxx’s eponymous hero rise from that of a chained-in-pain slave to a kill-crazy-bounty-hunting-dancing-horse-riding-bad-ass-mutha-fuKKKa! Everything about this film was a hoot and so entertaining! It also has arguably the funniest scene I saw all year too with the racists on horseback including Jonah Hill arguing about the quality of their hoods.
BEST VILLAIN – DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) Calvin Candie was a horrific character and played with genuine charm by the masterful Leonardo DiCaprio. HE should have won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in my view as Christophe Waltz already had one! Candie’s character was not only a vain, insane, murdering slave trader but there was a sense of an incestuous relationship with his sister. He got his just desserts in the end but alas DiCaprio didn’t from the Academy.
BEST FRANCHISE SEQUEL – IRON MAN 3 (2013) 2013 was big on Franchise equals, sequels and prequels including FAST & FURIOUS 6, THOR 2, HUNGER GAMES 2, STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS and THE HOBBIT 2. They were all really really entertaining but my favourite was the ever dependable Robert Downey Jnr as Tony Stark. It had some cracking one-liners and decent villains plus a lovely little twist which had all the fanboys up in arms because of Director Shane Black’s irreverent treatment of the Mandarin character.