Produced by: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Michel Litvak, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
**** CONTAINS SPOILERS ****
Along with Toni Collette in Hereditary (2018) and Lupita N’yongo in Us (2019), Jake Gyllenhaal’s failure to be nominated for a Best Acting Oscar for his performance as Lou Bloom never fails to astonish me. His committed acting in the thrilling and violent social satire, Nightcrawler (2014), is one of the greatest of this century so far. He inhabits the skin within this sociopathic, self-starting capitalistic hustler with such energy it’s a film I can watch over and over again.
With so many films about superheroes, it’s rare to see one about an anti-hero that is done so brilliantly and without redemption. Lou Bloom’s conniving, planning and preparedness to go the extra mile and expand his media business via sabotage and eventually murder is expertly rendered in Dan Gilroy’s stupendously good screenplay. Bloom is a drifting social outsider until he becomes a “stringer”; a “nightcrawler” filming bloody events to sell to news stations. Bloom then becomes a monster of ambition. A monster of obsession. A monster of humanity. He’s a symbol of a monstrous media and of a bloodthirsty public searching for the next violent clip to trend or share on Twitter or Facebook over their morning coffee. Bloom is an anti-anti-anti-hero of our times. A personification of capitalist evil.
Dan Gilroy’s cutting script makes no attempt to make Bloom likeable or even sympathetic. But you kind of admire his drive, linguistic charisma and thirst for success. That is until he goes way too far filming death and selling it for profit. Ultimately Lou Bloom is a vampire; a night creature creeping between the shadows. Through Bloom, the parasitic Media New Networks and public are also shown to both be vampires draining the life out of humanity. Gyllenhaal’s performance, as I say, is one of physical, verbal and mental brilliance. In some ways it foreshadows Joaquin Phoenix’s stunning acting work in Joker (2019). Phoenix was rightly rewarded by the Academy, with Gyllenhaal’s Bloom cruelly overlooked.
Having finished watching all six seasons of the absolutely amazing series The Americans (2013 – 2018) at the end of the summer, I thought it prudent to try and catch up with some of the other television shows I’d missed or had on my planner.
It is becoming clearer and clearer that television, especially many of the shows from Showtime, HBO and Netflix, are reaching and surpassing cinematic quality. The budgets, writing, production values and casts are incredible. It’s been like this for a while, and long may it continue I say.
So, here are a collection of the excellent TV shows I have completed watching in the last month or so, with the usual marks out of 11.
CITY ON A HILL (2019) – SEASON 1 – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC
This crime drama set in 1990’s Boston is essentially a combination of The Wire meets Ben Affleck’s cracking film, The Town (2010). Kevin Bacon and Aldis Hodge lead the cast in this always watchable story of cops and robbers. Bacon is especially excellent as the anti-heroic FBI agent, Jackie Rohr. Good performances, violent action and earthy Bostonian dialogue inflect this genre piece, which blurs the lines between the good, the bad and the downright ugly.
Mark: 8 out of 11
A CONFESSION (2019) – ITV
Martin Freeman, Imelda Staunton and Siobhan Finneran are all uniformly excellent in this true crime drama. Set in Wiltshire, it follows Detective Superintendent Steve Fulcher (Freeman), as his investigative team search for a missing young woman. What follows is a series of compelling events which grip you throughout. Seasoned scriptwriter Jeff Pope delivers a meticulously researched screenplay that explores the emotional impact of criminal behaviour, and how police procedure effects justice for victims and their families.
Mark: 8 out of 11
DARK (2019) – SEASON 2 – NETFLIX
What can I say about Dark (2019) – Season 2? Well, for starters it is easily one of the best television dramas I have seen in a long time. It’s edgy, nightmarish, confusing, twisted and to be honest, virtually unreviewable. I say that because I don’t want to give away any spoilers but, trust me, if you like emotionally, structurally and artistically complex plots involving multiple characters, locations and timelines then this German thriller is for you. It had me confused in a good way and totally immersed in the tenebrae. You will be lost, searching for the light, yet you will be astounded too by the audacity of the writing and looping madness on show.
Mark: 10 out of 11
EUPHORIA (2019) – HBO / SKY ATLANTIC
Having recently watched Sam Levinson uneven but stylish low-budget crime drama, Assassination Nation (2018), I thought I’d give this big budget HBO U.S. drama a watch. The ensemble cast of mainly young actors are led brilliantly by the ultra-talented Zendaya. She portrays just-out-of-rehab, Rue, who battles drug addiction on a daily basis. Her new best friend Jules (Hunter Schafer) also has issues to deal relating to identity, sex and love. In fact, pretty much all the characters are fucked up somehow in this giddy, glossy, sexy, dirty and often shockingly dark profile of high school existence.
Mark: 9 out of 11
THE HANDMAID’S TALE (2019) – SEASON 3 – HULU / CHANNEL 4
Season 3 of the iconic Margaret Atwood literary adaptation, continues to play strongly with the emotions, the nerves and the heartstrings. Centred around the dictatorial and fascistic Republic of Gilead, the plight of oppressed woman such as June Osborne (Elizabeth Moss) and other ‘Handmaid’s’ is a grim mix of tense drama and suffocating horror. Having said that, misery has never looked so beautifully shot as Moss’ performance and the cinematography are both exquisitely framed. The narrative is slightly slow in delivery, yet as June finds strength in rebellion and civil disobedience, you’re never too far from startling turns of violence and empowerment within the narrative.
Mark: 9 out of 11
THE LOUDEST VOICE (2019) – SEASON 1 – SHOWTIME / SKY ATLANTIC
I don’t tend to watch the news as it’s all quite depressing. However, I was drawn to this drama about Fox News and its’ leader, Roger Ailes, because it features a great cast. They include, an unrecognizable Russell Crowe, Naomi Watts, Sienna Miller and Seth MacFarlane. The narrative covers Ailes starting Fox News for Rupert Murdoch in 1996, and subsequent global news events from then to the present. Crowe revels in his role as the monstrous Ailes, who advocates making Fox the number one news outlet on TV, by pushing his own agendas amidst sensational news storytelling. I have seen a few negative reviews for this show, but I really enjoyed it. As a profile of a big, corporate predator who preyed on those around him, it was both sickening and enthralling at the same time.