Gyllenhaal Sets Tone in ‘Nightcrawler’ ; “Before I Sleep’ Great Until Conclusion




NIGHTCRAWLER is a pulse-pounding thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling — where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou thrives. In the breakneck, ceaseless search for footage, he becomes the star of his own story. (c) Open Road

R (for violence including graphic images, and for language)

Mystery & Suspense , Drama

Nightcrawler: A Breakthrough for Jake Gyllenhaal

The actor channels early De Niro in his best performance to date.

If one were to somehow merge the Scorsese-directed Robert De Niro characters Travis Bickle (of Taxi Driver) and Rupert Pupkin (of The King of Comedy), the result, I imagine, would be someone very much like Lou Bloom, the antiheroic lead played by Jake Gyllenhaal in writer/director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. From Bickle, he would inherit the nocturnal restlessness and vehicular inclination; from Pupkin, the delusional self-regard and entrepreneurial ambition; and from both, the sense that behind those eyes, some strange, and perhaps dangerous, thoughts are beginning to percolate.
You have to begin with the eyes. They’ve always been Gyllenhaal’s most distinctive feature, but in Nightcrawler they’re like parabolic antennae, wide and unblinking, attuned to any signal, however faint. When we first meet Bloom—and indeed, during the bulk of our acquaintance with him—he is prowling the nighttime streets of Los Angeles, eking out his existence as a scavenger. At the outset, he steals: copper wire, manhole covers, anything. When we witness him cutting his way through a chain-link fence, we imagine that he is trying to get to the other side. But no, he’s stealing the fence. When he sells these industrial goods to the owner of a scrap yard, he makes the mistake of asking for a job, prompting the all-too-rational response: “I’m not hiring a fucking thief.”

Later the same night, however, Bloom discovers an alternative form of nocturnal scavengery, when he happens upon a car crash and the freelance cameramen (one played by Bill Paxton) who are filming efforts to pull a victim from the burning wreck. It’s as if Bloom was born for this work, this watching in the darkness—or, more accurately, as if he had evolved for it, his eyes giving him a preternatural advantage, like some deep-sea fish or Gollum from The Hobbit.

Equipping himself with the rudimentary tools of the trade—a camera, a police scanner—Bloom begins his quest for whatever human sufferings he can capture on film and thus commodify: the dying carjack victim, the bicyclist killed by a drunk driver, the murder/suicide. Bloom pokes his camera right into their faces, beyond shame or moral qualm, and then sells the footage to a hard-hearted veteran news exec, Nina (Rene Russo), who is clinging to her job at a bottom-ranked local station. She teaches him what it is she’s looking for: victims (preferably white and well-off) harmed by villains (preferably nonwhite and poor), “proof” to her suburban audience that the inner city is encroaching. And he goes and gets the footage for her.

As Bloom perfects his trade, he acquires a hapless employee (Riz Ahmed), a new fire-red Dodge Challenger, and higher-quality cameras and scanners. He also perfects the art of improvisation, moving from observer to director of his grisly tableaux. Would the shot look better if the accident victim were repositioned more cleanly in the headlights’ glare? If the murderous home invaders are not caught tonight, perhaps they can supply some additional footage tomorrow?

Like De Niro, Gyllenhaal is learning to channel an eerie, inner charisma.
Gyllenhaal is tremendous in the central role of Bloom. Now 33 years old, he is the same age that De Niro was in Taxi Driver and, like him, he is learning to channel an eerie, inner charisma, offering it up in glimpses and glimmers rather than all at once. (In this regard, his performance in last year’s Prisoners offered a worthy warm-up to Nightcrawler’s main event.) Gyllenhaal lost between 20 and 30 pounds for the movie—another echo of young De Niro—in an effort to physically substantiate the animal that he and director Gilroy say inspired Bloom’s character: the coyote, feral native of LA, creeping down from the hills after dark. The effect is most visible in his face, in the sunken pools of his eye sockets and the tight, Joker-rictus of his jaw when he grins. Everything about him says hungry.

Alas, the film overall doesn’t quite live up to its lead performance. This is Gilroy’s rookie outing as a director after working on several screenplays (including that of his brother Tony’s The Bourne Legacy), and his work is smooth and self-assured. Cinematographer Robert Elswit brings his customary flair to the proceedings, shooting with a mixture of film (daytime) and digital (night). And the supporting cast is solid, in particular Russo (who has been married to Gilroy since 1992).

But after a strong setup, the movie descends too frequently into sheer preposterousness. The critique of media voyeurism and its ethos of “if it bleeds, it leads” becomes too broad, and Bloom increasingly gets away with actions that no news station—or, perhaps more to the point, police force—would ever countenance. Is Nightcrawler a sincere commentary on social decay or an over-the-top black satire? Tonally speaking, the movie never quite seems to make up its mind. I’m again reminded of a stitching together of elements from Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. The result is a very good movie—and a milestone in Gyllenhaal’s career—but one in which the excellent pieces don’t quite fit together.


before i sleep



A taut thriller based on the worldwide best-selling novel by S.J. Watson, BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP is the story of a woman (Nicole Kidman) who wakes up every day with no memory as the result of a traumatic accident in her past. One day, terrifying new truths begin to emerge that make her question everything she thinks she knows about her life – as well as everyone in it, including her doctor (Mark Strong) and even her husband (Colin Firth). (c) Clarius

R (for some brutal violence and language)

Mystery & Suspense

Before I Go To Sleep

Reviewed by Kyle Anderson
For a disorder that is relatively rare, anterograde amnesia—the brain’s sudden inability to create new memories—has been at the center of an alarming number of movies: It afflicted Guy Pearce in Christopher Nolan’s backwards noir Memento, doomed Drew Barrymore to 50 First Dates with Adam Sandler, and threw a monkey wrench into small-time hood Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s life in The Lookout. It’s a useful device, especially in a thriller, as it puts the audience and the brain-damaged protagonist on equal footing when it comes to unwinding the plot and discovering the twists.

Nicole Kidman is the latest victim in Before I Go To Sleep, a well-constructed mystery full of pitch-black turns that disappointingly deflates by the end. Kidman plays Christine, a woman who has spent the last 14 years of her life waking up with a blank slate. She has only her husband Ben (Colin Firth) to guide her, along with a helpful series of photos and Post-It notes with which she tries to reconstruct a working version of her life. Once she attracts the assistance of a curious neurologist (Mark Strong), Christine begins to piece together details from her life that Ben has been hiding from her, including the fate of their child and a more sinister version of the story of the accident that left her unable to create new memories.

Writer/director Rowan Joffe, who also made the taut crime family biography Brighton Rock, uses Kidman to excellent effect. Even at her most centered and calm, Kidman grants Christine a perpetual internal desperation. She knows that everything anyone tells her is a lie. As she peels away the layers on her relationship with Firth’s Ben, Sleep becomes as intense a meditation on marriage and fidelity as the similarly bleak Gone Girl.

However, unlike David Fincher’s latest, Sleep pulls back from the precipice after spending its third act barreling toward a decidedly bleak cliff. After a series of gut-wrenching revelations, the back-door redemption at the end feels tacked-on and cheap. Sleep is 91 minutes of delightfully twisted tension and three minutes of eye-rolling treacle. Kidman and Firth are both excellent in their sadness and savagery, and Joffe builds tension far better than most of the horror movies available at your local Cineplex this Halloween weekend. If only he had quit while he was ahead. B


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