Rating: The Good – 76 Genre: War, Drama Duration: 130 mins Director: Joseph Sargent Stars: Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal, Kiera Knightley
Movies recounting humankind’s gruelling attempts to overcome nature’s obstacles tend to be either underproduced and rather dull affairs or overproduced and predictably brainless action movies so it’s a welcome surprise when we come across one that so effectively balances the internal and external factors to the story as much as Baltasar Kormákur’s film does. Couched in a comfortable budget, Everest captures the visceral wonder of the experience but maintains the writing and acting as its prize assets. And with a cast of A-listers all willing to do their bit for far less billing than their status normally demands, it pays dividends. Jason Clark hits all the right notes as the expedition leader and Josh Brolin and John Hawkes add handsomely to the medley of emotional tribulation while Jake Gyllenhaal, Sam Worthington, Kiera Knightley, and Robin Wright help shape both the story’s physical and personal contexts so that theme and drama meet harmoniously in the middle. Not everyone will be happy with Kormákur’s aversion to set piece action but those with an appreciation for attritional authenticity should find his adventure rather compelling.
Movies that tread new ground are a rare breed these days but Dan Gilroy’s grimy psychological thriller gets neck deep in a premise, plot, and movie perspective that’s unlike anything we’ve really seen before. Jake Gyllenhaal headlines as Louis Bloom, a degenerate dork looking for a vocation in which he can shine not to mention make a quick buck. Happening by a late night accident, he rapidly immerses himself in the world of sensational nighttime news and places himself at its forefront by videotaping crimes, accidents, and anything that bleeds and delivering them to Rene Russo’s desperate news director fresh off the blood-soaked pavement.
Nightcrawler introduces us to one unsavoury character after another but each are rooted in a desperate need that makes their wretched deeds all too relatable. Gilroy lures us through this looking glass of fast food media and successfully captures the upside down personal morality of all involved. Everything seems a little too incredible but at no point do we disengage. In fact, we want more, even as, no especially as, the credits begin to roll.
A skeletal Gyllenhaal is electric in a performance that reflects the movie’s creepy themes of the ‘real unreal’ on a singularly focused level. We begin by dismissing the likelihood that anyone could be so deranged only to recoil later on at the frightening sincerity in his bulging eyes and the sound of his voice as he recites his night-school rhetoric for business success. Gilroy was certainly taking a risk building the movie around the one truly irredeemable character but the entire film gravitates around Gyllenhaal’s magnetism and though we loathe him, we definitely enjoy doing so. Russo is wonderfully complicated as the TV exec who crawls onto his web, soliciting everything from the audience’s pity to their curiosity. The always great Bill Paxton pops up in a compelling cameo as a fellow nightcrawler who crosses paths with the manic Bloom and Riz Ahmed rounds off the cast with a sympathetic turn as the latter’s weary assistant.
Gilroy’s script is gleefully twisted in its originality while behind the camera he, cinematographer Robert Elswit, and indeed composer James Newton Howard give the nighttime streets of LA a character and personality of the kind we experienced in Michael Mann’s Heat. And whether they act as a still background to the patient madness of Bloom waiting for his scanner to announce his next shot or the frenetic blur of the subsequent high speed pursuit, they bring a critical balance of grit and gloss to the proceedings. It all adds up to a triumphant movie experience that should easily stand the test of time not only as a satirical social commentary but as a pulse thumping crime thriller to boot.
Rating: The Good – 75.6 Genre: Crime Duration: 109 mins Director: David Ayer Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick
Blistering L.A. cop drama that rises well above its concept thanks to energetic direction and some terrific lead chemistry. Jake Gyllenhall and Michael Pena are equally excellent as a couple of hotshot street cops whose close friendship ties them to their jobs as much as their age appropriate abandon does. David Ayer makes the decision to shoot this one camcorder style (explained as a day-in-the-life documentary that Gyllenhall’s character is making) but thankfully the writer-director’s halfhearted commitment in this tiresome endeavour meant he intercut the “docu-footage” with more traditional perspective for most of the movie. The former is a great vehicle for the pair’s wisecracking banter but its exclusive use would’ve completely limited the wider drama. That said, the story here essentially amounts to a package of procedural sequences that cohere loosely around the two cops’ extended encounters with a drug cartel’s L.A. base. But what a package it is! Slickly directed, funny as hell, genuinely touching at times, and pumping with adrenaline. Ayer’s ear for bro speak is at its most incisive and although it can begin to grate, it’s an undeniably (if painfully) accurate depiction of how young males converse. In actuality, Ayer is to be commended for letting this indulgence slide because given the dangerousness of the two guy’s profession – and their deep awareness of it – the inane riffing ends up adding to their characters’ complexity. Thankfully every conversation is bookended with some sublime action or, at the very least, some side splitting interaction between the leads. A daring fire rescue and the climactic shootout are particularly stunning, shot with the type of verve and confidence of a seasoned action director. The latter is definitely hampered by the subjectivity of the intermittent camcorder shots as the inherent absurdities of the scenario (not to mention carrying a camcorder during a hit in the first place!) – that would normally be obscured behind the gloss of more distanced perspectives – are laid bare. But it’s overall impact is maintained thanks to our fervent attachment to Gyllenhall and Pena.
Rating: The Good – 81.1 Genre: Mystery Duration: 112 mins Director: Richard Kelly Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell
Writer/director Richard Kelly’s sci-fi mystery is easily one of the most affecting and originally conceived science fiction movies to address the issue of time. It follows (literally) the troubled yet highly intelligent young Donnie Darko (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) through a period of time when his strange visions and conversations with what seem to be an 6-foot imaginary rabbit have alarmed his parents and seen him sent to therapy. As the visions continue however, Donnie begins to see a pattern that ties into events which are occurring in the real world and ultimately leads him to a key choice that will define his future.
Donnie Darko is a superb film that effortlessly balances the more weighty conceptual content with a cheeky wit and dark humor. There are some delightful exchanges between the various characters which make the whole experience a treat to the ears. But of course, there is much more going on beneath the surface and Kelly switches tone almost instantaneously at times but also seamlessly. The film is coloured with an intense but appropriate film-making style and there are some truly beautiful moments of cinematic self-reference that feed perfectly into Darko’s story such as the sequence in the theatre where images from The Evil Dead bleed into the narrative. The twist is not so much a twist as it is a methodical unveiling which requires the audience to step up and see it (it won’t come to more passive audiences).
Gyllenhaal is extraordinary in a title role that required a lot from its actor and there are a host of other top actors rounding out the supporting cast. The film’s soundtrack gives the proceedings a nice era-specific bedding and the politics of that era become an interesting and informative backdrop to the turmoil (both inner and outer) which is defining the various characters’ lives.
Rating: The Good – 70 Genre: Thriller Duration: 153 mins Director: Denis Villeneuve Stars: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis
Flawed but nonetheless intensely atmospheric drama that attempts to rise above the mire of serial killer movies by probing mutually constraining questions of guilt, responsibility, necessity, and revenge. When two girls are kidnapped, one of the fathers (Hugh Jackman) kidnaps the original suspect who he is convinced is the guilty party despite the lead detective’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) assertions he isn’t. As the mystery into the kidnapping throws up more and more barriers to detective Loki’s investigation, Keller Dover subjects his suspect to torturous treatment in the attempt to uncover the girls’ whereabouts. It’s a scintillating premise and the first 60 minutes lives up to its promise thanks to the compelling performances of the two leads and the heavy mood its director Denis Villeneuve establishes from early on. Boasting an immaculate visual profile courtesy of the great Roger Deacons, Prisoners is veritably defined by its dark palette of colours and bleak tonal lighting and combined with the methodical yet artful direction of that opening hour, it sets its stall out as a wholly consuming piece of cinema.
However, just when the story should be consummating this style and premise, it gets bogged down under the weight of its lofty ambitions. The moral conundrum which the bulk of the movie is constructed around ultimately loses cohesion thanks to a ludicrously protracted second act. So, what should’ve been a straightforward dichotomy of moral relativism becomes bloated as Villeneuve leaves and revisits it over and over and the lack of any genuine ethical counterpoint inevitably takes its toll. But it’s not simply a failure to properly tease out its central moralism that scuppers Prisoners. A second issue is the ending. As a twist, it works relatively well but things get a little too caricatured and cliched to the point that it borders on the absurd. However, the most frustrating issue with the film is undoubtedly a gargantuan plot hole concerning the police’s investigation and (without giving anything away) their failure to use scent dogs to do something so fundamental that the case would’ve been solved within the first 24 hours if they did. For a film that runs for two hours beyond that point in the story, it becomes an unforgivable contrivance and sours the entire experience. Yes, there are many interesting curve-balls written into those two hours but, by that point, writer Aaron Guzikowski has lost a critical degree of his audience’s trust. Less gargantuan but still significant are the plot holes surrounding Loki’s failure to connect glaringly overlapping incidents from early on in the film and there’s also an uninspired and overfamiliar antagonism between Loki and his superior that recalls the ‘angry police captain’ of 70/80’s cop movie (a cliche that was lampooned as far back as 1993’s So I Married an Axe Murderer).
All this is a real shame because, in addition to the wonderful aesthetic, Jackman and in particular Gyllenhaal are outstanding. The former got most of the plaudits but it’s the latter’s textured approach to his character that is the more engaging. There’s an interesting back story to his character that suggests an added impetus to do the type of work he does. But because it’s only really alluded to, it’s left to Gyllenhaal to tease it out. He does so admirably. From the idiosyncratic blinking to his general physical and verbal comportment, he layers Loki with intriguing qualities that on their own could drive a film. But as Dover’s side to the story takes precedence and the aforementioned plot holes accrue, that boat sails.
In the end, Prisoners feels like an opportunity missed but with the outstanding performances and that rich atmosphere, there are enough reasons to recommend it. The second half isn’t all bad either. There’s a beautifully shot driving sequence right at the climax that capstones the film’s tension in audacious style and even rivals Pacino’s driving scene from Heat. And while the ending gets a little silly, it’s shot with enough adroit class and clever tension that it can still be enjoyed over a bowl of popcorn.
Rating: The Good – 80 Genre: Crime, Mystery Duration: 157mins Director: David Fincher Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo
David Fincher’s inspired account of the Zodiac murders which haunted San Francisco in the 1970′s focuses on the various personalities who got caught up in the story from the reporters who covered it to the police who investigated it. The acting is uniformly excellent and with a cast full of top acting talent that shouldn’t be a surprise. Robert Downey Jr. is outstanding as Paul Avery, the journalist who initially makes most waves in the case, and the character (as it is written here) was perfect for Downey’s cheeky persona (a persona which has been perhaps over-ploughed at this point in his career). Mark Ruffalo’s turn as Inspector Toschi is without doubt the most complete and charismatic performance and he owns the camera when it’s on him. As the cartoonist who eventually broke the case (in many people’s eyes), Jake Gyllenhall has the most screen time but since his character Robert Graysmith, has by far the tamest personality, he had a lot to do to make up for the more fertile material Ruffalo and in particular Downey Jr. had. James Vanderbilt’s script is masterfully structured with a level of character construction rarely seen. It imbues each of the characters with layers of interesting quirks and traits and thus allows each of them to be interesting in their own unique way. Some screenplays can be seen to invigorate its cast and Zodiac is a case in point.
However, the standout performer here is the director. Shot in the patient style of the great 70′s films, Zodiac was a signal to the world that Fincher was maturing beyond the innovative experimenter, a trait which all great young directors share, and into someone who realises that often less is more. Seven and Fight Club have such strong cult followings (and rightly so) that many will always see this film as somewhat inferior to those but in many ways Zodiac is the more complete work. It’s one of the most impressively paced films in recent memory to the extent that the two and half hours zip by. Moreover, its intelligent structure ensures that the audience is kept up to speed with the intricate story throughout. On top of all that, Fincher brings one of the definitive 70′s composers David Shire on board to further engender the movie with that decade’s feel. However Zodiac’s greatest success lies in how Fincher captured the sense of paranoia and mystery that dominated the real life case. In this film, even the most ordinary of occurrences or interchanges develop the capacity to intensely frighten as the experience of not knowing who the killer is becomes a palpable intrusion on the concerns of the audience. This was the final masterstroke in a perfect performance by the great Fincher.