Nightcrawler Movie Review 0 87


“If you wanna’ win the lottery, you have to earn the money to buy a ticket.”

This seems to be one of the twisted inspirational lines for Lou Bloom, the central character in the debut feature of writer-turned-director Dan Gilroy (‘The Bourne Legacy’, ‘Real Steel’). Lou is an extremely driven young man who is desperate for work and is willing to put his heart and soul into whatever kind he can get his hands on. He quickly graduates from selling stolen scrap metal to capturing horrendous and graphic incidents, from car crashes to murders, that occur around Los Angeles at night and selling his footage to whichever news channel is offering the most money. As he becomes more and more involved in his newfound line of work, he begins to blur the lines between eager observer with a camera to actually becoming part of the crime which he is supposed to be merely documenting.

This stylishly made thriller is built around the central performance of Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou and boy does he shine in the role. Even though he has already shown himself a diverse and very talented actor (see our recent Take 5 feature as proof), he really outdoes himself with an outstanding performance that manages to be at once mesmerising yet disturbing, compelling yet repellent. He’s the type of guy who’s fascinating to observe but you wouldn’t necessary want to hang out with him. It’s also more than just a gimmicky body weight transformation performance; yes he looks unlike we’ve ever seen him before, gaunt and almost stretched out in appearance, but he throws himself as much into the mind-set as he does the physicality of this uniquely unsettling character, talking, as he does, almost entirely in goal-setting jargon like some sort of grotesque motivational speaker reading aloud from a CV.

It’s genuinely frightening to watch his increasing downward spiral as his obsession with his work starts to have a tighter and tighter grip on him, especially when it comes to how he exerts his perceived power and influence on his new put-upon assistant (Brit star Riz Ahmed). Things get even more disquieting when the formerly professional relationship between Lou and the newswoman (Renee Russo) to whom he sells his footage strays into unprofessional, immoral territory and eventually how he deals with competition from a rival “nightcrawler” (Bill Paxton).

The night-time LA landscape is beautifully captured on film by cinematographer Robert Elswit (‘There Will Be Blood’, ‘Magnolia’), the shrouding darkness both as a transformative agent for the city itself – places always take on a far more sinister feel under cover of darkness – and as an extension of Lou’s twisted state of mind and how he chooses to conduct himself around other people. Forget about the croaking ‘Babadook’, the ever-staring ‘Annabelle’ or that toy ‘Ouija’ board; Lou Bloom is the scariest monster of the season precisely because he’s wholly, disconcertingly believable.

‘Nightcrawler’ successfully manages to be a whole bunch of different things at once: a savage satire of the world of (specifically American) news media and the responsibility thereof, a look into the mind of a disturbed/exceptionally motivated individual (depending on your perspective), an exploration of power struggles between the genders and in job hierarchy, and the general morality of “how far is too far?” Gilroy expertly balances all these different ideas without it ever feeling like it’s trying to be too many things at once. Each theme interlocks beautifully, often scarily, with one another to make for a complex, daring cinematic experience that’s all anchored by one of the strongest performances of the year.

This review was previously published on Scotcampus.

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I’m a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features.

I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 414

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 447

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10