Tag Archives: Jake Gyllenhaal

Nightcrawler: a lack of feeling

Nightcrawler begins oddly. The film’s protagonist, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is introduced to viewers while he steals wire fencing. Apprehended by a security guard, Lou notices the guard’s watch and kills him for it. In most anti-hero stories, the spectator is supposed to connect with the lead character. Typically given some tragic back story, the anti-hero usually begins as a normal enough person who starts committing crimes. The anti-hero’s moral fall also heralds their rise towards success, while the spectator cheers the anti-hero on. Symbolising complete freedom from law and morality, the anti-hero lets the spectator live vicariously in a world absent from consequences and everyday constraints. Yet in Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom nothing can be found resembling the typical anti-hero. Stripped of a backstory and absent of any redeeming qualities Lou Bloom simply arrives into Nightcrawler. Devoid of any moral scruples, no excuses are ever afforded to Lou. Any initial impressions of Lou being an overly desperate man fades as he preys upon others during his rise to the top.

Dispassionate towards its own protagonist, Nightcrawler eschews the traditional anti-hero structure of a flawed character study. Instead Nightcrawler examines the forces which allow Lou Bloom to flourish; capitalism and modern media. What binds the pair together in Nightcrawler’s world is a shared lack of empathy for anything.

Capitalism, characterised by Lou Bloom himself, masquerades behind the language of ambition. Nightcrawler’s opening scene preordains Bloom’s entry into the nightcrawler profession of recording disasters. From a security guard’s watch to ATMs and luxury cars Lou scours L.A for opportunities to exploit until his arrival, by way of a recent car crash, into the nightcrawling trade. From there Lou Bloom commits depravity after depravity to excel in his new career; justifying each new descent with a coldly twisted rationale of business savvy, market demand, and motivational speaking. Lou’s behaviour is naked capitalism in action. He finds a market where he can sell a service and takes any measure to beat his competition. The tragedies that Lou manipulates into fruition is his creation of a product, another part of his nightcrawler service to the ever-needy news networks.

Lou’s ruthlessness is only matched by the media networks purchasing his disaster footage. In green rooms and editing booths, the same news networks projecting concern for local citizens are addicted to the disasters they peddle. Each news bulletin of catastrophe is an overcompensating display of empathy.  In the background the networks tailor each new tragedy into a demographically targeted narrative, which push the boundaries ever further to shock viewers and boost their ratings.

The symbiotic relationship between media and capitalism in Nightcrawler points to a society which has gone numb; hooked on the cathartic sting of fresh tragedy to give it any facsimile of feeling.

By Saul Shimmin

Nightcrawler is available on Netflix for subscribers in the U.K and the film’s trailer is below:

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Wildlife

Rating: 5 out of 5 (classic)

Set in the waning days of the 1950’s, Wildlife charts the collapsing marriage between Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Jeanette Brinson (Carey Mulligan) from the perspective of their 14 year old son Joe ( Ed Oxenbould).

A tale revealed as much by observation as it is told by dialogue, Wildlife boldly promises a bright directorial path for actor Paul Dano in one of my favourite films this year.

Wildlife begins with a forest fire blazing away in the background of the Brinson’s anonymous Montana hometown. The fire is a symbol for the dissolution of Joe’s family life, a destructive phenomenon ignored by the townsfolk and by contemporary American society. Robbed of any support, Joe is subjected to a rude baptism as he learns to care for himself. From grocery shopping to working a job at a photography studio, Joe becomes a man during Wildlife while his parents devolve into children. Director Paul Dano uses the camera to create a visual arc for Joe’s incremental transition into adulthood. Joe’s dawning independence is his means of escape from the decaying nuclear family he belongs to. Told by his boss that photography is capturing a moment of happiness, Joe’s studio subjects become Norman Rockwell paintings of American bliss while his family life degrades further.

Echoing Loveless earlier this year, the parents of Wildlife are absent from their post. Completely self-indulgent, both Jerry and Jeanette personify two differing obsessions under the American Dream, a dream which neither are enjoying at Wildlife’s beginning. Jerry yearns to lead a life of self-reliance. From the first view of his job at a golf course, Jerry is literally at the bottom as he scrapes mud from rich clients’ shoes. Emasculated by his job and put upon by boss, he chokes at the lack of control and the lack of pride his lifestyle gives him. Jeanette wants to advance in the world at any price. Her initial positive attitude mutates into a mid-life crisis as she seeks any means to be better off. Both parents use Joe, directly and indirectly, as panacea for their behaviour throughout the film.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan are a mesmerising wreck as dysfunctional couple Jerry and Jeanette. Gyllenhaal’s marked absence from Wildlife bestows ample time for Mulligan to steal all attention. Thinner than ever before on screen, Mulligan’s appearance foretells her teetering collapse from Wildlife’s beginning. Events spark Jeanette into a mid-life crisis but Mulligan enthrals as her complicated character begs both for scorn and sympathy. Switching from observer to agent in Wildlife’s events, Ed Oxenbould’s performance as Joe is a quiet fire that suddenly roars by the film’s end.

Enough is given through dialogue to understand Wildlife, yet other elements are added in the film’s visuals and the cast’s actions for the audience to observe and interpret. The combined effect is a story which engages but neither patronises nor penalises viewers if any nuances are overlooked. Outstanding praise is deserved for Wildlife’s score. David Lang’s fluttering composition mimics the ringing joy and melancholy of a lark at dawn, perfectly capturing Joe’s innocence, tragedy and sadness as the adult world swallows him up.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

Life

Life is another addition to the sci-fi, creature feature/suspense category. The film begins with with a team aboard the International Space Station waiting to receive a probe carrying sediment samples from Mars. The team soon discovers that the samples carry a dormant, single-cell life form, the first life to be discovered outside of Earth. After introducing the cell to different environments, the team’s lead scientist, Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) awakens the cell and begins to nurture it. After accidentally frightening the alien, known as Calvin, enters survival mode and death ensues.

Movie Score: 2.5 out of 5 (Average) 

 

–Spoilers Ahead–

While Life‘s special effects were breathtaking and often horrifying, I believe the movie’s screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo behind the fantastic films Zombieland and Deadpool) missed an opportunity to delve deeper into the dark recesses of humanity. They touched upon certain aspects of our existence: humans feelings of hatred, procreation, love, and unquestioning duty to protect one another. They even rationalized Calvin’s quest to massacre the crew as a survival-of-the-fittest reaction. However, they failed to appropriately address the humans’ survival instinct, leaving a rich topic untouched.

The writers’ first mistake was failing to provide themselves with the right characters to correctly portray life and enter the complex waters of humans’ animalistic survival-instincts. The International Space Station’s crew consisted of a bunch of overly rational, “good people.” CDC doctor, Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson), who lived and died by her adherence to the code of her employer, pilot-come-physician, David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wanted to remain on the ISS and away from Earth, Sho Muraki (Hiroyuki Sananda) who’s wife just had a baby (that’s all we learn about Sho), the scientist Hugh Darry who loved other creatures (he was a good guy with an optimistic outlook despite being a paraplegic), the Russian who was kind, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), and Ryan Reynolds’ character Rory Adams who mostly acted like Ryan Reynolds. The writers created no gray characters, people who were willing to put their survival before their crew-mates. I realize there might be one or two “good” people on a crew of six, but lacking at least one selfish guy/gal, who is willing to sacrifice others to escape Calvin, is not only unrealistic, but boring.

Despite eventually realizing they needed to kill Calvin to survive, the crew always seemed to do so without any ethical conundrums. The closest the astronauts came to a dilemma occurred when Calvin first turned hostile in the lab. Despite some self-sacrifices by members of the crew to save the others, I never believed their acts of “love.” Their uniform kindness made them unbelievable as characters because humans are not so pure. We are sinful creatures at heart.

The writers should have created a greedy, evil, sinful character to match Calvin’s ferocity, to overturn all the “goodness” and “humanity” on the International Space Station. For a moment, I thought Sho was going to be that character, but the script never clarified if his attempt to reach the lifeboat was an act of selfishness or stupidity.

In sum,  Life failed to showcase humanity’s darkside, the side that executed the Holocaust, the side that commits terrorism on a daily basis, the side that massacred Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Instead, every crew member lived by their code, played nice, and died nice.

This is not to say the movie didn’t have its moments. In actuality, I enjoyed many parts of the film. I truly relished how Reese and Wernick overturned many of the monster genre’s conventions. For example, they didn’t allow the crew’s minority members to die first. Though the movie’s finish wasn’t unexpected, they managed to add a pleasant twist and resist the happy ending trope. Also, some of the crew’s deaths were quite imaginative, and I dug seeing Calvin’s motivation for murder (survival) grow .

By Hagood Grantham

For the trailer, see below:

Nocturnal Animals

Film score: 5 out of 5

Nocturnal Animals is a tale about art, reality, and regret. Susan (Amy Adams)  leads a lavish but hollow life with second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). Susan receives a manuscript from her estranged ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Spending the weekend alone and unable to sleep, Susan begins to reflect on her past choices as she falls ever deeper into Edward’s tale of tragedy, heartbreak and violence.

Tom Ford’s second film is a refreshing return to film noir, 1950’s Hollywood Thrillers and French New Wave Cinema, permeated by dashes of Hitchcock, Chabrol, Godard and other Cinematic masters.

Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography conjures an eerie and isolating Los Angeles, distant and cold, covered in rain or fog. The city’s ambience is mirrored in the commercial art scene in which Susan now works. Plunged into a wide depth of field, Susan seems lost in her life, constantly detached from a large and empty world. These scenes are contrasted by Susan’s memories of her first husband Edward and the imagined world of his new novel. Both of these words are intimate and colourful, boasting a broader range of colour and smaller frames, allowing characters to truly inhabit both spaces.

Ford’s direction and his writing hold together a narrative that flits between the past, the present and the sub-narrative of Edward’s novel. It would have been easy for the film to become a jarring experience, due to the repeated and sudden switches between all three worlds.  Yet Ford manages to pull it off, the differing depths of field, changing colour palettes, and particularly changes in Susan’s wardrobe, merges all three parts into a cohesive whole.

Praise is deserved for Ford’s and McGarvey’s effective use of soviet montage theory in switching between the novel and present day, the camera repeatedly cuts from Edward’s novel to Susan’s reaction to the unfolding events. This cutting between the sadness of Edward’s novel to Susan’s emotions causes the fictional world and reality to bleed over. By the end of the film, it is hard to say whether the events of the film actually happened, or that the audience has witnessed a dream within Susan’s fatigued mind as she regrets her past.

Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon all excel in their roles. It is warming to see that all three actors, who are major stars, are still willing to make films that do not fit the standard box office formula.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson portrays Ray Marcus, the predatory villain of Edward’s novel who leads a small band of thugs. Taylor-Johnson’s depiction of Ray is excellent because the character is a pantomime villain, the audience is not allowed to understand Ray’s motivations or to empathize with him. Essentially Ray does what he does. It is a credit to Taylor-Johnson’s acting that this flaw in the character only appears some time after the film’s end. Throughout his appearance on the screen, Ray acts a centre of tension, he is completely unpredictable and sociopathic.

Ultimately I do not think that the film is a tale of indirect revenge. It seems to hold a deeper meaning about the sacrifices creative people undertake to succeed in their Art, and a commentary on the commercialization of Art in all its forms.

By Saul Shimmin

Target audience: Anyone looking for a good film that they will ponder for days.

For the trailer, see below: