The Watchers

The Watchers

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Review: Get On Up (UK Cert: 12A)

Not many musicians can say they were chiefly responsible for creating a genre of music, influencing artists such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, and Prince, as well as being one of early hip-hop’s most sampled acts, but that’s what James Brown did. Having had no formal music training, Brown was one of those rare songwriters who experimented with styles, even the rules of what was considered music, and came up with US Billboard Chart denting hit after hit (Brown’s emphasis on the bass and rhythm sections, that would eventually become known as funk, yet the same man also wrote one of the world’s most popular love songs, It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World). The most memorable, game changing geniuses are usually flawed, complex, and contradictory; several words that only begin to describe James Brown. With Get On Up, The Help’s Tate Taylor bravely tries to sum up Brown’s life in just over two hours. The result is a decent, if patchy, biopic of The Godfather of Soul.

Alarm bells rang in my head when a 12A certificate flashed up on the cinema screen. You wouldn’t produce a film based on Keith Richards or Axl Rose’s life and give it a 12A rating; the same goes for James Brown. This is one of Get On Up’s biggest problems; Jez and John-Henry Butterworth’s script isn’t concerned with showing James Brown the womaniser, drug addict, or his erratic behaviour in later years, this is James Brown: the million-selling, founding father of funk. All of this is hinted at in Get On Up (an awkward and funny scene where Brown’s current and ex-wife see Brown off at the airport; a close up of Brown using PCP; the comical opening scene where Brown, out of his mind on drugs, waltzes in on a self-improvement seminar, shotgun aloft, demanding to know who used his private bathroom), but that’s just it; Brown’s personal life is hinted at, nothing more. We learn very little about James Brown other than he was brilliantly talented, a borderline sociopath, surrounded by yes men.

Instead of recounting Brown’s life from beginning to end, the Butterworth’s script zigzags frenetically throughout his life, juxtaposing scenes that are decades apart. You also have Brown (played by newcomer Chadwick Boseman) repeatedly break the fourth wall, glancing at the viewer, occasionally walking out of his own scene to talk to the camera and explain what’s going on inside his head. This is both strength and a massive flaw for the film. There are clever moments when Boseman glances at the camera, silently telling the audience, “I know how cool I am,” or, when he argues with the management at the record company he’s signed to, he’s saying, “This man is top of the class at stupid school.” In one stand out scene, where Brown’s manager, Ben Bart (played with relish by Dan Aykroyd) rants at Brown about how you can’t go changing the rules of the music industry, Brown walks away, leaving Bart lecturing to no one, and argues his point directly to camera, a glint in his eye as he sits back down. Early on in the film, you wonder why we’re not shown Brown’s reunion with his mother, years after she walked out when he was a child, leaving him with his abusive father. Taylor smartly places this scene after his best friend, Bobby Byrd (Nelsan Ellis) walks away from him, having finally had enough of Brown’s arrogance and temper. Despite the money and the adoration from his fans, Brown was ultimately alone; by pushing away Bobby Byrd, he lost the one person who didn’t see him as a meal ticket (we soon realise that Brown’s mother hasn’t come to build bridges, she wants a hand out).

The problem with this scatter-shot approach is that at no point do we go into any detail about Brown’s life. It feels more like damage control than a warts-and-all biopic, Taylor swerving away from Brown’s personal troubles and instead trying to recreate his energy and charisma. For most of Get On Up, you get a rose-tinted trip down memory lane instead of a dig beneath the surface study of James Joseph Brown.

On the plus side, Chadwick Boseman’s performance is astonishing. While he’s taller, and doesn’t have quite the same build as Brown, Boseman copies the tics and expressions perfectly, able to pull off the steps, spins and splits as if he was created in a lab using Brown’s DNA. Instead of miming to the songs, it’s Boseman’s voice you hear, and while it isn’t quite Brown, Boseman is as close as anyone is going to get. When he sings, Boseman captures the screams and moans of ecstasy, longing, and regret that made Brown’s voice instantly recognisable.

Having got the rights to Brown’s music, Taylor ticks off virtually every song from his repertoire. Not only will the music have you moving around in your seat, you’re also reminded what a pioneering songwriter Brown was, how easily he could come up with an impossible not to dance to riff, such as the tight and stripped down Cold Sweat. A handful of famous songs are missing – The Boss and Hot Pants don’t make it in – but you will struggle to find a better soundtrack this year, or for a good many years.

Would James Brown have wanted a formulaic, by the numbers biopic about him? Probably not, but the approach that the Butterworth’s script takes means that fans won’t find out anything they don’t already know. Get On Up is a mile away from the step back and let the viewer judge biopics of Ray or 24 Hour Party People; it’s lightweight, but entertaining enough. If you want to appreciate the genius of James Brown, the best thing you can do is buy a copy of Live at the Apollo, one of the greatest live albums ever recorded. Not only does the set skilfully swap from raging funk to slow, tender ballads, it’s a lesson in how a lead singer can get a crowd worked up and have them at his command.

3 out of 5


Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Awards Season 2015: Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations

And so it starts.

Awards season has begun, folks. I apologise to the vast majority of our readers who probably have absolutely no interest whatsoever in this ridiculous pageant of backslapping and smug self-congratulation, but I like it. 

So the Film Independent Spirit Awards announced their nominations today. They virtually bookend the awards season as a whole- they are the first nominations to be announced and the awards ceremony is traditionally the day before the Oscars (so they will be handed out on Saturday 21st February).

The Film Independent Spirit Awards, as the name suggests, honours films made outside the major Hollywood studio system. Here are a selection of this year's nominees:

Best Film
Love Is Strange

Best Director
Damien Chazelle (Whiplash)
Ava DuVernay (Selma)
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman)
Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
David Zellner (Kumiko The Treasure Hunter)

Best Actor
Andre Benjamin (All Is By My Side)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)
John Lithgow (Love Is Strange)
David Oyelowo (Selma)

Best Actress
Marion Cotillard (The Immigrant)
Rinko Kikuchi (Kumiko The Treasure Hunter)
Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Jenny Slate (Obvious Child)
Tilda Swinton (Only Lovers Left Alive)

Best Supporting Actor
Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler)
Ethan Hawke (Boyhood)
Alfred Molina (Love Is Strange)
Edward Norton (Birdman)
J.K. Simmons (Whiplash)

Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette (Boyhood)
Jessica Chastain (A Most Violent Year)
Carmen Ejogo (Selma)
Emma Stone (Birdman)
Andrea Suarez Paz (Stand Clear Of The Closing Doors)

There's been a fair bit of overlap between these and the mainstream awards over the last few years, so they can act as a good barometer to see which way the land lies (at least early on). Last year, 12 Years A Slave (the eventual Best Picture Oscar winner) featured heavily in these awards and both Cate Blanchett and Matthew McConaughey were nominated for Blue Jasmine and Dallas Buyers Club

Birdman, about a washed-up actor (Keaton) who once played an iconic superhero, leads with six nominations, whilst Boyhood, Nightcrawler and Selma (about the Civil Rights movement with Oyelowo as Martin Luther King) all have five.

Congratulations to all nominees! (and commiserations to readers who don't give a monkey's about awards season, cause there'll be articles about it from now til the end of February!)


For Your Consideration: Possible Contenders For Awards Season 2015

After an unintended year off last year (honestly, awards season was on me before I knew what hit me), I've dusted off the old crystal ball and am about to indulge in some wild speculation and a little prognosticating on what films I'm expecting to see feature in the upcoming awards season.

Hoping to capitalise on the (pardon the pun) stellar success of Gravity at this year's ceremony, I'm sure Christopher Nolan and the rest of the Interstellar team are hoping for several nominations. A veritable slew of technical awards will no doubt be forthcoming, whilst the twin peaks of Best Picture and Best Director for Nolan are a distinct possibility.

Is Gone Girl too dark and depressing a prospect for award season glory? I'm not sure. This twisted little tale certainly shows off some acting chops in a taut and unforgettable thriller. Of the two leads, I think Rosamund Pike is more likely to feature for her frankly stunning role as Amy but there's every chance that Ben Affleck might get noticed too. There's also the chance of Supporting nominations for Tyler Perry and Carrie Coon.

The Imitation Game is a pretty surefire bet (especially for the BAFTAs). Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as bona fide genius Alan Turing has been mentioned as a potential award winner since it was first seen. Keira Knightley might also get another shot at the Oscar, playing Joan Clarke. It may get a Best Picture nod too.

If you thought this year's results were a shock (elevating Matthew McConaughey from romcom lunk to Oscar-winning actor), then next year might see something equally strange: Channing Tatum as an Oscar nominee. Foxcatcher ticks a lot of award category boxes: based on a true story, with Tatum, Steve Carell and Mark Ruffalo all playing real-life people. Directed by Bennett Miller, who has had awards success with Capote and Moneyball, it's likely to sweep the top categories with Carell's turn as troubled millionaire John du Pont a virtual lock.

If you go down to the woods today, you're in for a big surprise... Musicals have had something of a renaissance at the Oscars in the last few years, so expect to see Rob Marshall's take on Sondheim's Into The Woods feature. Will it net Meryl Streep an unparalleled 19th Oscar nomination for her role as the Witch? I'm not sure. But Marshall was nominated for his direction of Chicago and that film also swooped in to win, so anything is possible.

Other films that might get a look in:

Mr. Turner saw Timothy Spall win Best Actor at this year's Cannes Film Festival, which boosts his chances of an Oscar nod somewhat. It's perhaps an outside chance for Best Picture or Best Director, but Mike Leigh has been nominated for Best Screenplay a few times, so that's a possibility.

Joining Spall and Cumberbatch in the Best Actor nominations (almost definitely at the BAFTAs and even possibly for the Oscars) could be Eddie Redmayne who has been winning critical acclaim for his role as Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything. 

Robert Downey Jr and Robert Duvall might get acting nods (Duvall as Supporting Actor, Downey Jr as lead) for their roles in The Judge. Critical opinion seems to be that they are great in an uneven script so one or both may be nominated.

Julianne Moore, who is criminally underrated in some quarters, is gaining Oscar buzz for her lead role in Still Alice, as a linguistics professor who receives a devastating diagnosis.

Reese Witherspoon could be aiming for her second Best Actress Oscar nomination and win for her performance in Wild, playing Cheryl Strayed, a woman who underwent an 1100-mile solo hike as a way to recover from a recent catastrophe. This could also see Laura Dern get a Best Supporting Actress nod as Cheryl's mum.

Big Eyes might seem like an odd Tim Burton project but this drama about one of the art world's biggest frauds (for years, Walter Keane passed off the work of his wife Margaret as his own) boasts some serious acting power with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz signed on. Perhaps another one where the acting talent reaps the benefits?

The big blockbusters will be consigned to the technical awards as usual- sterling films like Guardians Of The Galaxy and not-so-sterling ones like Transformers: Age Of Extinction will crowd out Sound Editing and Visual Effects. But with the release of the final Hobbit film, could The Battle Of The Five Armies see a Lord Of The Rings-like sweep at next year's Oscars? Be interesting to see.

The timetable for the major awards in 2015 is as follows:

Film Independent Spirit Awards
Nominations announced: 25th November 2015
Awards Ceremony: 21st February 2015

Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Award
Nominations Announced: 10th December 2014
Awards Ceremony: 25th January 2015

Golden Globes
Nominations announced: 11th December 2014
Awards Ceremony: 11th January 2014 (hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler)

Producers' Guild Of America (PGA) Award
Nominations Announced: 5th January 2015
Awards Ceremony: 24th January 2015

Writers' Guild Of America (WGA) Award
Nominations Announced: 7th January 2015
Awards Ceremony: 14th February 2015

Directors' Guild Of America (DGA) Award
Nominations Announced: 13th January 2015
Awards Ceremony: 7th February 2015

BAFTA Film Awards
Nominations announced: 9th January 2015
Awards Ceremony: 8th February 2015

Golden Raspberry Awards (Razzies)
Nominations Announced: 14th January 2015
Awards Ceremony: 21st February 2015

Academy Awards (Oscars)
Nominations announced: 15th January 2015
Awards Ceremony: 22nd February 2015 (hosted by Neil Patrick Harris)

As you can see, the Independent Spirit Award nominations are out today. This blog was written before I saw the nominations. A post will follow shortly.


Thursday, 20 November 2014

Review: Mr. Turner (UK Cert 12A)

A biopic of famed English painter J.M.W. Turner might not, at first glance, seem like the most likely subject for director Mike Leigh to take on. Leigh is known for his improvisational films dealing with contemporary issues, but- as films like Topsy-Turvy and Vera Drake show- he is comfortable in a period setting. 

Mr. Turner follows the last quarter century of Turner's life, from his life in London with his beloved father, William Sr, (Paul Jesson) and housekeeper Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson), to his relationship later in life with Sophia Booth, a widowed Margate landlady (Marion Bailey). It's episodic in nature but held together by a remarkable central performance by Timothy Spall as the titular Turner.

Spall won the Best Actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival and it's not difficult to see why. He totally inhabits the role and yet gives such a grounded and unshowy performance. Turner is undeniably a brilliant painter but quite a rough character, concerned with his art and little else. He barely acknowledges his illegitimate daughters, giving them little more than the most perfunctory of attentions (in one of the funniest scenes of the film). He uses Hannah for his own gratification but doesn't seem to care much for her. However, there are moments of levity- his relationship with his father is nicely done (the interplay between Spall and Jesson is great and their relationship is believable), he seems the life and soul of the Royal Academy of Arts and there is a lovely understated nature to his relationship with Sophia. There's also a tremendous scene toward the end of the film where he rebuffs the offer of a private seller which is just a brilliant moment. Is Spall's performance worthy of an Oscar nomination? I'm not sure, but it is certainly one of the best given by one of Britain's most underrated actors. 

Other performances are similarly strong: Jesson, Atkinson and Bailey all give great performances as the most important people in Turner's life. Lesley Manville is great in a cameo role as natural scientist Mary Somerville (who Turner helps with an experiment on light refraction) whilst  David Horovitch gives a good turn as Turner's doctor. 

Leigh's script is absolutely loquacious with long, intricate sentences for even the most basic of social greetings. It's initially quite tough to cope with but you soon get into the flow of speech. The film is a real feast for the eyes. Dick Pope's cinematography is just spectacular, with luscious shots of landscapes, seas and towns that is just sublime. All the costumes are similarly exquisite.

It occasionally veers into the indulgent and there are some scenes that feel a little extraneous, padding up the running time to two-and-a-half hours. I feel a ittle judicious cutting would not have gone amiss- for example, a scene where Turner sits through an excruciating conversation about gooseberries could easily go- and the impact of the film would not be lost. That said, it's a handsome film and a great performance by Spall so it's definitely worth your time.

Rating: 4 out of 5


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Review: The Imitation Game (UK Cert: 12A)

Alan Turing was the man responsible for breaking the Enigma code, the machine that encrypted Nazi U-boat communications during World War Two. Capable of one-hundred-and-fifty billion combinations, at the stroke of midnight each day it would swap to another setting, making Britain’s studies during the last twenty-four hours all but worthless. Before Turing’s efforts, Enigma was considered unbreakable. Morten Tyldum’s (Headhunters) The Imitation Game isn’t a watered down, try not to offend anyone, biopic. Graham Moore’s first feature-length screenplay examines what a man with a such a mind would have been like, the moral dilemmas he faced conducting top secret research, and how Turing, a national hero unbeknownst to the British public due to the Official Secrets Act, was treated once it was discovered, in 1952, that he was homosexual.

Moore’s script could have been a two-hour mess, as it bounces back-and-forth across Turing’s life: The teenage years at Cambridge, bullied by the other students, and his growing awareness of his sexuality; his struggles to crack the ever-changing Enigma code; and the police investigation into Turing, suspecting that he is committing acts of “gross indecency”. You can tell the screenplay has been through numerous re-writes, there is not a single scene or piece of dialogue that feels redundant. Moore does that talented and rare thing of coming up with a fast-paced film that doesn’t scrimp on insights and observations of its lead character.

As for its lead character, Benedict Cumberbatch, you could argue, gives his best performance yet. An international star as Sherlock Holmes in the Steven Moffat/Mark Gatiss TV series, and playing the villain in Star Trek: Into Darkness and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, this performance is less showy than his more recent film and TV work. Here he treads a fine line between arrogant egocentric and anguished vulnerability.  Tactless and dismissive of anyone without a mind anywhere close to his, Cumberbatch’s Turing displays na├»ve, childlike behaviour, whether it’s the blank, uncomprehending looks he gives when he watches men and women flirting, or how he curls up in a ball and cowers when threatened with violence. Turing asks, “Am I a man or a machine?” The answer, by the time The Imitation Game’s credits come up, is undoubtedly a man, but Turing needed someone or something – much like Christopher, the machine he built to break the Enigma code – to translate the thoughts and feelings going on inside him. Whether Cumberbatch wins an Oscar for his portrayal of Turing, he easily deserves a Best Actor nomination.

Keira Knightley, when given a role she can do something with, is a skilled actress. As cryptanalyst Joan Clarke, she is Turing’s interpreter; she knows him and what is going on inside his head.  Tragically, what Turing fails to realise is that Clarke agrees to marry him because she doesn’t just understand him, Turing is the only man who understands her. Compassionate, but also fiery, frustrated that she has to work in secret with Turing and his team (a woman can’t be involved in such an important, undercover project), Knightley gives a wholly credible performance as Clarke.

While The Imitation Game is nowhere near as bland and mild as Brian Percival’s The Book Thief, you get the sense that Tyldum and Moore have played around with some of the facts. It feels like the truth’s been stretched when we find out one of the code-breaking team has a brother on a civilian convoy ship, Turing having the impossible decision of whether to save the ship and risk the Nazis knowing Enigma has been compromised. The biggest offender is Turing’s sexuality being hinted at rather than shown; this is far from Brokeback Mountain with a Cambridge graduate twang. Despite Cumberbatch doing a stunning job portraying Turing’s turmoil at having to lie day-by-day, trying to fool everyone, this is down to commercial rather than artistic reasons; getting the film a 12A instead of a 15 rating.

Intelligent, unapologetically emotional, and compelling, The Imitation Game is one of the best character studies you will see in cinemas this year. Sensitively handled, this is a lesson in how important, defining moments in history should be portrayed on-screen. With all the awards buzz around the film, hopefully Hollywood will take note.

4 out of 5


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Review: Interstellar (UK Cert: 12A)

Back at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, Christopher Nolan and Matthew McConaughey gave a press conference that was a masterclass in promoting your film, but telling you nothing about it. That’s the best way to go and see Nolan’s latest multi-million dollar epic; the less you know, the more you’ll enjoy it.

The plot starts off simple enough. In the near future, earth is dying, and food sources are dwindling. Ex-astronaut Cooper (McConaughey) is sent on a mission to save mankind; to search an unexplored galaxy for a planet where the human race can live on. Not only is Cooper concerned with saving our species, he also wants to return home so he can see his family again. That’s all straightforward; then Christopher and Jonathan Nolan (who both wrote the script) throw all sorts of smart, original, occasionally genuinely bonkers scenes at you.

If you search the online reviews for Interstellar, a number of them suggest that Nolan has stolen from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. While some of the space exploration is definitely influenced by Kubrick’s masterpiece, Interstellar has a beating heart underneath the push the envelope visuals. In many ways, Nolan’s latest project is a throwback to the eighties, films such as E.T., The Goonies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the world and the skies above were to be explored: outside your front door, there’s an adventure waiting. Considering Nolan gave us the downbeat, real-world superhero Dark Knight trilogy, Interstellar feels like it came from a more innocent, less complicated time. In Interstellar’s world, you either grow up to be a farmer or the gifted and talented become scientists. Children are taught that the moon landings never happened, just an elaborate hoax to bankrupt the Russians. NASA has been shut down for decades; planet earth has neither the time nor the money to spend on space missions. No one looks up at the skies any more, instead they shuffle round, surviving instead of living. McConaughey’s Cooper is your traditional hero, the same mould as Raiders’ Indiana Jones, or The Goonies’ Mikey. Cooper is a Texan rebel, refusing to be told what to do or have decisions made for him; he was never meant to live an ordinary life, working nine-to-five, only seeing the wonders of the world and beyond it on a TV screen.

As little as four years ago, Matthew McConaughey was the Go-To-Guy for Hollywood’s next lightweight, mediocre film. Drawing a line under his CV and taking lead roles in risky indie flicks such as Killer Joe, The Paperboy, and, more recently, The Dallas Buyers Club, McConaughey is suddenly one of the most talented and surprising actors working today. Once again, McConaughey is on first-rate form here as Cooper. Despite all the science and theories that feature throughout Interstellar, what stands out is its theme of family, how strong the bond is between two people who love and care for each other. McConaughey never squanders this; Cooper might be saving life on earth, but his priority is getting back to his children. It’s not spoiling anything to say that the mission does not go according to plan, and a scene where Cooper is forced to watch the consequences play out in front of him is heart-breaking to sit through. McConaughey has this rare talent of being able to draw you in with a flawlessly judged, absorbing performance, without chewing the scenery or overacting.

As you would expect with a Nolan film, all of the performances are strong, but most deserving of a mention is Jessica Chastain, who plays Cooper’s ten-year-old daughter, Murphy. McConaughey and Chastain’s scenes together are what Interstellar is all about. Murphy is her father’s daughter; unlike her peers, she is obsessed with finding out what our world and the stars have to offer. Chastain is McConaughey’s partner in crime, but she also gives him the dressing down he needs when he goes too far, putting himself in danger. The scene when Cooper tries saying goodbye to his daughter, Murphy refusing to speak to him, pretending he never existed, will have plenty of people welling up at the cinema.

Interstellar needs to be watched on the biggest screen you can find (I saw it on IMAX and it was borderline overwhelming!). Nolan swaps his long-time cinematographer Wally Pfister for Hoyte Van Hoytema (Let The Right One In, Her), Hoytema managing to get the balance just right with visuals that are desolate, but also give a sense of grandeur. Planets made up of skyscraper-sized waves, or frozen clouds, will wow audiences who pine for the summer blockbuster season.

Nolan’s first attempt at science fiction proper just misses the mark of being flawless. Whereas Inception’s dream within a dream rules were carefully and subtly explained, occasionally funny or thrilling to watch, Interstellar bombards you with Stephen Hawking levels of physics and expects you to keep up. Once or twice, I was wishing I had a rewind button so I could go over an explanation one more time. The last hour of the film changes gear and delves into theories such as there being not three, not four, but five dimensions, as well as gravity being a force that can time travel. Personally, I thought the third act was both clever and unpredictable, but I can understand why someone would find it irritating and have no idea what’s going on.

Thankfully, you can overlook the science lesson exposition as it’s all sandwiched between an unashamedly human and touching narrative that will stun die hard Nolan fans. Wormholes, black holes, and the vastness of space all look eerily beautiful (it’s not a rip-off of 2001, it’s 2001 after nearly fifty years of cinematic advances), but Nolan also shows us how family, loving someone and treasuring your memories, can be just as special. For me, my favourite science fiction films are Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, and Duncan Jones’s Moon. I’m adding Interstellar to that list.

5 out of 5


Friday, 7 November 2014

Review: Nightcrawler (UK Cert: 15)

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief, selling stolen fence wire and manhole covers to make money. When he witnesses a horrific car crash and the freelance film crew hovering around the scene, Bloom is inspired to start his own news crew business, tuning into the police radio and being first at the scene to record all the news worthy crimes and accidents: stabbings, home invasions, mass pile-ups. Selling his footage to the local morning news, the station’s editor (Rene Russo) demands more shocking, attention-grabbing stories, forcing Bloom to go to any lengths to cover the stories that will have wealthy, middle class America talking.

Screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a mishmash of satire, comedy, and pulse-pounding thrills, with Gyllenhaal giving his best screen performance thus far. Gilroy has come up with a lead who will be looked on as one of the decade’s most memorable antiheroes. Bloom admits he never did well at school, but he studies articles and pours over videos on the internet. His dialogue is straight out of a business studies textbook; impressive words that, when you pick them apart, don’t mean anything. This isn’t a man who wants to be successful in the traditional sense – flash car, a pot of money that never runs out – he wants to run a business where he’s at the top of the ladder, with people below him, telling them what to do.

You’ll be surprised just how much you’ll laugh whilst watching Nightcrawler; a fifty-fifty split between brilliantly funny set pieces as the socially awkward, initially clueless Bloom blunders his way round crime scenes, shoving his camera in the face of witnesses and police officers, and nervous laughter, struggling to believe that Bloom and the TV station can get away with their morally bankrupt ideas as to what counts as news; the more grotesque and intrusive the footage, the higher the viewing figures. As Russo explains, politics, world news, current affairs makes up less than thirty seconds of their news summary, while five minutes is spent on “rich white folks getting killed by poor minorities.”

Gilroy’s script is a near-perfect character driven piece, which Gyllenhaal more than makes the most of. Wide eyed, barely blinking and stick-thin, his dialogue cold and detached; he’s saying one thing but thinking five steps ahead. You know there is something wrong with Bloom, but we’re never told what. Gyllenhaal keeps you guessing as to what’s going on inside his head, wondering how low he can sink so he can get his hands on some ratings-grabbing footage. This is a performance up there with Brando, De Niro or Pacino at the peak of their careers; Gyllenhaal is that stunning to watch.

The supporting cast all give performances you can’t fault. It’s hard to tell whose worse, Bloom or Russo’s editor, Nina. The TV station is under pressure with its falling ratings, Nina knowing she has a month to save her job. All she thinks about is whether the footage breaks any laws, never showing sympathy or concern for the victims or families. During one of many stand-out scenes, the news anchors are commentating on Bloom’s footage from a crime scene. Nina talks to the anchors through their ear pieces, telling them word-for-word what to say; she’s not interested in the facts, only in shocking and scaring the viewers. Four Lions’ Riz Ahmed is given another great role as Bloom’s skittish right-hand man and conscience, Rick. Rick is desperate for money and takes on the job as Bloom’s assistant, listening in to the police radio, giving directions, and filming. From the outset, Rick isn’t comfortable with his job, firing questions at Bloom that the viewer is thinking. When Bloom tampers with and breaks in to crime scenes, Rick wants out, but stays because he has no other job.

The only issue with Nightcrawler that stops it being flawless is its ending, or lack of it. Like the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, the film just stops. There is no tie up all the loose ends, wrap things up conclusion. You get the feeling that’s the point, Gilroy’s casting a judging eye on these materialistic, technology-obsessed times, where it’s increasingly difficult to get the facts about a news story instead of some misconstrued details. There’s no satisfying, happy ending here. This doesn’t ruin Nightcrawler, and it’s certainly not as jarring as the Coen’s film, but in the screening I watched, there was this this reaction of “Huh?” when the credits appeared. That aside, Nightcrawler is gripping, entertaining and mercilessly satirical; Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is a character who will be compared to the likes of De Niro’s Travis Bickle or Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso. Slick, smart and nightmarish stuff.

4 out of 5