Tag Archives: End of Watch

Gyllenhaal Exquisitely Creepy in ‘Nightcrawler’

Nightcrawler
Three and a half stars (out of four)
R (violence, including graphic images, language)
117 minutes

In the thriller “Nightcrawler,” Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an exquisitely creepy, career-defining performance. It’s one of those exciting, stand-up-and-take-notice turns that allows you to see an actor in an entirely new light. I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t demand the attention of the Academy when it comes time for this year’s Oscar nominations.

Gyllenhaal has always had an edge to him, a darkness that belies his clean-cut, blue-eyed good looks. He first made an impression in the nightmarish 2001 indie hit “Donnie Darko” and, alongside mainstream fare such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” “Bubble Boy” and “Prince of Persia,” he’s peppered his career with more challenging efforts, including “Brokeback Mountain” and the recent “End of Watch” and “Enemy.”

In last year’s “Prisoners,” he delved into downright freakish territory, playing Detective Loki, a greasy-haired, tattooed cop obsessively dedicated to his job but completely lacking in bedside manner when dealing with the parents of a couple of missing girls. Gyllenhaal’s work was intriguingly unattractive, but the performance was a little too mannered for my taste. The actor poured on the character’s ticks and loner eccentricities a bit too thick.

That’s why Gyllenhaal’s efforts in “Nightcrawler” are so surprising. As Louis Bloom, an Internet-savvy loner who discovers his twisted calling in chasing down bloody late-night crimes for profit, the actor exercises remarkable restraint.

This is a role that could have easily gone over the top and off the rails, but Gyllenhaal nails it. His Bloom is a complete weirdo and also improbably mesmerizing. He’s like a horrific car wreck — skin-crawingly revolting, yet we can’t turn our eyes away from him.

“Nightcrawler” is the debut film of Dan Gilroy, writer of “The Bourne Legacy” and “Real Steel.” He, too, shows admirable restraint, not to mention atmospheric style, in this chilling, often cringe-inducingly funny indictment of America’s fear-mongering, ratings-hungry television media.

We first encounter Louis Bloom applying wire cutters to the chain link fence of a railyard in what appears to be the dead of night. It’s a fitting introduction, for in those first few minutes we are able to surmise that Mr. Bloom is a) a criminal, b) a jittery smooth talker who simultaneously hypnotizes and unnerves his listener, and c) capable of violence.

Bloom has greater aspirations than petty theft, however. After a few ambitious but misguided attempts to obtain gainful employment, he happens upon a car accident on one of L.A.’s many cutthroat freeways. Pulling over to observe, whether out of curiosity or predatory instinct, he sees a couple of news stringers pounce upon the scene with vans and camcorders. He’s instantly hooked.

After finagling his way into a video camera and police scanner of his own, Bloom hits the streets in a naive attempt to capture footage he can sell. His fledgling efforts are awkward — he shows up at the scene of minor infractions and DUI arrests, to the annoyance of the cops — but he’s a determined guy. Before long, he finds his way to the scene of a carjacking, and because he’s willing to get closer than the other stringers, grabs just the kind of graphic images craved by veteran TV news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo).

Nina explains her station’s “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy to Bloom, who takes her words to heart. Before long, he’s memorized all the police codes, hired an unsuspecting intern/pawn (Riz Ahmed) and starts showing up at crime scenes before the cops. And if he has to stage and manipulate the situation to get better play, so be it. He’s a man without a single moral qualm, eerily quick to adapt to the nocturnal needs of L.A.’s ethically flexible media.

“Nightcrawler” takes place almost entirely after the sun has set. Gilroy plumbs the grainy depths of a darkened Los Angeles with such assuredness, the film fits comfortably into the great panoply of flicks exploring L.A. by streetlight, which includes such movies as “Collateral” and “Drive.”

This seedy, suburban nightmare-scape serves as a hunting ground for Gyllenhaal’s prowling lowlife. The actor has said in interviews his performance was inspired by the coyotes who slink through the L.A. hills. You can see the animal instinct flickering behind Bloom’s buggy eyes — it’s crazy how strange Gyllenhaal looks after simply dropping a few pounds.

In the film’s best scene, Bloom lets Nina in on his business strategies — mostly composed of cliches learned from Internet “research.” Gyllenhaal’s enthusiasm, coupled with the character’s oddly clipped delivery, is ickily infectious.

Despite the movie’s preoccupation with violent crime, Bloom’s burgeoning relationship with Nina is perhaps the queasiest element of “Nightcrawler.” Russo is great as a desperate, aging news veteran with terrible taste in eye shadow and an insatiable appetite for gory headlines designed to terrify her network’s rich, white viewers.

When it comes to satirizing the media’s moral vacuousness, Gilroy doesn’t pull any punches. Bizarrely, a handful of actual TV news personalities deigned to participate in the film, despite its unsavory insinuations about their vocation. In one scene, real-life anchors deliver hilariously macabre color commentary for the aftermath of a home invasion. Did they read the script before they showed up to set?

Much of what occurs in “Nightcrawler” strains credulity, but Gyllenhaal’s gripping descent into misanthropy keeps us from checking out. Bloom may be a larger-than-life boogie man but we recognize him.

He’s a monster of our own making, a scavenger who feeds on a city’s narcissism and paranoia.

 Photo: http://www.fandango.com

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‘Fury’ as Subtle as, Well, a Tank

Fury
Two stars (out of four)
R (strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, language)
134 minutes

There is nothing subtle about war, so it follows that there’s not much subtlety to be found in war movies.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but in the case of writer-director David Ayer’s “Fury,” the film is so desperate to shock and awe, watching it feels like being barreled over by something big, heavy and unwieldy. Like a tank, for instance.

I know that’s a cheap and easy metaphor for a movie about an American tank crew barreling their way suicidally through Nazi Germany in the last, grim days of World War II. Nevertheless, it’s an apt comparison for a film that prizes force over finesse and sprawling, simplistic themes and imagery over convincing relationships and emotion.

That’s not to say a tank movie isn’t a brilliant idea. It’s gotta be one of the most novel war story angles Hollywood has come up with in a long time. And when Ayer focuses his pen and his lens on what it’s like to be inside one of those gigantic, creaking hunks of metal, rolling its way inexorably through a nightmare landscape of smoke, carnage and death, “Fury” is fascinating.

Unfortunately, the director’s focus too often roams to the kind of wartime sequences we’ve seen before in more compelling visions of World War II, including “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific.”

“Fury” takes its name from its most imposing star — the one that isn’t married to Angelina Jolie — a battered bruiser of a Sherman tank, manned by the seasoned, war-weary Sgt. Don Collier (Brad Pitt) and his faithful crew.

The movie makes a point of telling us that the average tank crew only survived for about six weeks. Collier’s gang has bucked that trend, managing to stay alive and stick together for four years.

The sergeant’s goal is to keep it that way, not an easy task considering his new crew member, Norman (Logan Lerman), is a baby-faced clerk who has no combat experience and has never seen the inside of a tank.

“Fury” may appear to be an ensemble film, but don’t let that fool you. This is Pitt’s show. It’s almost as if the actor is reprising a less comical version of his character from “Inglourious Basterds,” the Nat-zi-hating Lt. Aldo Raine.

Collier schools young Norman in the ways of war and utters the movie’s choicest monologues. “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” he informs his scared-stiff, stubbornly pacifist protege in a jaded Southern drawl.

Don’t get me wrong. Pitt is a fine actor. His hair buzzed into a crew cut, his face scrawled with scars, he deploys his signature blend of toughness and torment like a weapon. If only the other members of the cast were given a chance to show their stuff. Instead, they’re made to embody war movie stereotypes.

Shia LaBeouf plays Boyd, the religious one who quotes scripture and refrains from partaking of the spoils of war. Michael Pena, who was excellent in Ayer’s “End of Watch,” provides the comic relief as driver Gordo. Jon Bernthal, so memorable on “The Walking Dead,” is assigned the role of Fury’s resident redneck, the brutish Grady.

None of these characters are particularly likable, so Lerman is there to soften them up as the GOOD guy. In case, we don’t get that he’s the GOOD guy, one of the actors is kind enough to point it out to us. But even though he is the GOOD guy, Ayer isn’t content until Norman is killing Nazis just as gleefully as his battle-hardened comrades.

Lest we feel any sympathy for those dagnabbit Nazis, the Germans are depicted as goose-stepping ghouls who chant so operatically and in perfect synchronization, they may as well be the Orc army marching out of Mordor in “The Lord of the Rings.

Ayer’s last film, the cop drama “End of Watch,” was equally grandiose, but soared on the strength of the relationship between a pair of LAPD officers played by Pena and Jake Gyllenhaal. If only the interactions in “Fury” were as solid, but truth is we know very little about the characters or what connects them.

The director resorts to stirring up phony conflict between these brothers in arms in a bizarre, deeply uncomfortable scene in which Collier and Norman hold hostage/seduce/befriend — it’s disturbingly never clear — a pair of German women after securing an enemy town.

On a purely technical level, “Fury” fares better. Ayer obviously took great pains to ensure the film’s authenticity and delivers several suspenseful, horrific scenes of combat, illustrating both the power and limitations of the World War II-era tank.

The movie’s finale ramps up the heroism to almost ridiculous extremes.

Funny thing is, the heroics of everyday life inside the tanks, with their claustrophobia, tedium, close quarters and forced intimacies, probably would have proved more profound.