Nightcrawler Review

Nightcrawler (2014) written/directed by Dan Gilroy.

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rennie Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton.

Synopsis: Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaall) is desperate for work, and is caught stealing from a construction site when we see him for the first time. After Lou witnesses a freelance film crew at a crash scene, it inspires him to purchase a second hand video camera and police radio scanner.

After Lou films footage of a carjacking, he attempts to sell this to a local TV station. Morning News Director Nina (Renne Russo) buys the footage, and this starts an intriguing relationship between the two. As Lou’s business grows, he acquires the help of an assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) who was desperately seeking work. However, things begin to take a sinister turn when the boundaries of Lou’s new job are crossed.

Gyllenhaal is unnerving and sinister as the story’s protagonist, and this is possibly the best performance he has given to date. He is very interesting to watch despite various cringy exchanges between himself and other characters. This seems due to his lack of people skills. Lou reminded me somewhat of Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy (1983) with his delusional characteristics, but his complete determination to be successful. With Gyllenhaal’s dramatic weight loss, his usual muscular physique has been transformed to make him look extremely gaunt. This effectively adds to the sinister look he has.

The supporting cast also do a good job. This is the first movie I have seen Rennie Russo in for a long time, but she still carries the sex appeal she had throughout her younger years. Her character Nina’s desperation at trying to stay on top is conveyed with her willingness to push Gyllenhaal’s edgy reportings onto mainstream television.

This story makes a number of statements about contemporary news reporting – one being the boundaries between ethical against what makes for a breaking story. This is explored throughout the movie, with Gyllenhaal consistently shunning the morally correct thing to do in favour of what will make for a better and financially benifiting news story.

The story’s themes are extremely thought provoking. I left the movie thinking this probably happens daily in the media, with camera crews doing anything to get a decent vantage of their subjects.

Writer/Director Dan Gilroy did a fantastic job with this movie, and this has deservedly been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Gilroy has managed to directed and write a compelling story with equally compelling performances from his cast.

Overall, I was intrigued throughout this movie at the characters, the plot and themes the filmmaker was conveying. It is one of the best movie’s I have seen over the past year and is well worth a watch.

By Robert Spence

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Match Point Review

Match Point (2005) written/directed by Woody Allen, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Scarlett Johansson, Emily Mortimer, Matthew Goode and Brian Cox. This was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2006.

Synopsis: Chris Wilton (Meyers), a former professional tennis player moves to London and meets the wealthy Chloe (Mortimer). Everything is perfect – her family adore him, offer him a job in one of their businesses, and Chloe falls for him. After meeting Chloe’s brother Tom’s (Goode) fiancé Nola (Johansson), he is instantly attracted to her. Nola is an American actress, and is struggling on the acting circuit. After a chance encounter with Nola after an audition, they eventually sleep together. These trigger a life changing sequence of events resulting in a vicious downward spiral for Chris.

Thematically, this story is all about chance, and many of the encounters that happen are due to blind luck. The fact Chris is a former tennis player illustrates this nicely. Chris provides an analogy summing this up. “There are moments in a match when the ball hits the top of the net, and for a split second, it can either go forward or fall back. With a little luck, it goes forward, and you win. Or maybe it doesn’t, and you lose.” There is a moment towards the end of the film when an object is thrown towards the river, symbolising the tennis net when it goes a certain way; thus, reinforcing this theme. The talent of Allen’s writing brings this theme full circle.

There is a very talented cast in this film, and each give good performances. Meyers plays a man who gradually loses control nicely. The stand out performance, however, is from Johansson. She plays the femme fatale archetype very well, and leads Meyers astray with little effort whatsoever. Her progression from coy and seductive to out of control is every man’s nightmare, and is done to perfection. It is not surprising that Allen has utilised her for other roles since.

Woody Allen is a very talented filmmaker, and is still producing quality stories with intriguing themes. For a good insight into the repercussions of an affair, then this film is for you. This effectively conveys the downward spiral protagonist Chris is on, and the desperate lengths he goes to in order to keep this under control.

I recommend this.

By Robert Spence

Nebraska Review

I have been a fan of Alexander Payne ever since Sideways (2004). Therefore, I was keen to check out his latest film Nebraska (2013) – especially after all of the Oscar buzz surrounding it.

Nebraska stars screen veteran Bruce Dern as Woody Grant, the film’s protagonist, and centres on him and his estranged son David played by Will Forte. The story is set in the town of Billings Montana, where Woody receives a 1 million dollar sweepstakes letter in the mail. Seizing his chance, he decides to embark on a trip to Lincoln Nebraska with his sceptical son in tow to collect his prize. Along the way, David learns a lot about his alcoholic father and vice versa.

The film begins with Woody attempting to walk to Lincoln on his own. This opening scene shows the viewer that Woody really is on his last legs, and is struggling with his health. After confiding in his son about his win, David tells him that it is a scam. Although David (who works in an electronics store and has just been dumped by his girlfriend) knows this is not a legitimate prize, he goes with his father because he knows his father does not have long left. Woody’s other son Ross (played by Breaking Bad’s Bob Odenkirk) and wife Kate (played excellently by June Squibb) are also sceptical about this and are desperate to change Woody’s mind.

After stopping in Woody’s home-town of Hawthorne on the way to Lincoln, word quickly spreads of Woody’s apparent new found wealth and he becomes the talk of the town. As a result, this changes the behaviour of some of Woody’s family and friends who try and take advantage of him. One such occurrence is from Woody’s old friend Ed Pegram (played by Stacy Keach) who claims Woody owes him money from years prior. As the story progresses, David and Woody are joined by Kate and Ross, and we really see a progression within their family unit.

Towards the latter half of the story, Woody’s letter is stolen from Woody’s masked nephews Bart and Cole (played by Home Alone’s Devin Ratray and Tim Driscoll). After David propositions them later on, they state how “bogus” the letter is and Woody becomes a laughing stock. It is at this point that we realise that Woody wanted the money to leave to his family after his death.

At the film’s conclusion, Woody and David reach Lincoln on their own to find that Woody was not in fact the winner of the prize. As Woody always wanted a truck, David trades in his car for a second hand one and tells Woody it is in his name. The story closes with Woody driving through the town with David hiding in the passenger seat. Woody’s dignity is somewhat restored, and he truly does feel like a millionaire.

One of the first obvious stylistic choices is that this film is in black and white. Alexander Payne chose to do this as he wanted to produce an “iconic, archetypal look.”[1] This works very well with the beautiful shots of landscapes, and it is not surprising cinematographer Phedon Papamichael was nominated for an Oscar for this.

This film is also a character piece, and the writing is great. Screenwriter Bob Nelson did a nice job of crafting some really interesting characters with equally interesting back stories. The characters really do feel real, which was one of my favourite features of the film. The dialogue is also laced with humour, and I found myself laughing throughout. Nelson creates a real sense of community in the story too and I genuinely felt like these characters had known each other for years.

The acting is another feature that really makes this film excel. Dern and Squibb were deserving of Oscar nominations, and Squibb really did steal the show. She is provided with all the best comic lines, and can’t help but be likable. The secondary characters were also great, and I could not note one poor performance.

Director Alexander Payne truly has crafted a film that will stand up against other films like Sideways and The Descendants (2011). With a great script, stunning cinematography and equally effective acting, I highly recommend this film

By Robert Spence