With all the recent schedule launches between Marvel and DC, you wouldn’t think there would be any room for actual dramatic films. Movie titles like Nightcrawler and Birdman make it easy to think that we are getting two comic book flicks in the same week. I’m just letting you know now that Nightcrawler is not an X-Men Origins spinoff about the blue teleporter. Birdman is closely related to super hero flicks, but only in the most meta way possible. Let’s get started shall we.
It’s time to recognize Jake Gyllenhaal as one of the most talented actors working today. Sure, he was in Bubble Boy, Prince of Persia and Love & Other Drugs, but in terms of filmography quality, he’s batting .800. Sorry about the sports analogy. I don’t understand it either. He starred in one of last year’s greatest movies with Prisoners and now carries his latest moody drama, Nightcrawler.
Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom. Lou is a sociopath who has never been able to find his chosen path. One night, he happens on a traffic accident and a team of freelance videographers who record grisly crime scenes and sell them to morning news teams. He sees this as a new start to life and starts recording post-accidents himself. As he becomes more successful, he takes on an assistant and forms a odd working relationship with a news producer (Rene Russo) who lives by the rule that if a story bleeds, then it sells.
Lou always has the upper hand in every relationship. He’s not above using blackmail or violent means to climb the ladder of success. He is brilliant, yet is not hampered by ethics and morality. He is not above framing a crime scene or withholding evidence from the police.
This is not a comedy. Clearly. Actually, the grimy underbelly of “Breaking News!” feels very realistic. I am now going to watch the news with a new viewpoint. These types of situations may be the norm for shady organizations like TMZ, but Nightcrawler gives the story and Russo’s producer enough backstory to justify the dodgy news deals behind the scenes.
Lou Bloom is Gyllenhaal’s Travis Bickle. He is unrecognizable in the role, and not only because he lost a ton of weight. He is sinister without ever being terrifying. It’s rare that I’d ever be into a movie that has no likable characters. Yet, I have to credit the writing and the pacing for keeping me interested in Bloom’s career path. I would not be surprised to see Gyllenhaal get the Best Actor nod come awards season. The role may be too dark for the Academy, but he deserves praise for creating intensity with simple facial gestures alone.
So far, two of the best movies of the year (Gone Girl and Nightcrawler) have been extremely dark and moody. Let’s hope for a shining light next week with Interstellar.
Nightcrawler is easily in my top five movies for the year. It could almost take place in the universe of Drive. The only thing that could have made it better is a pop-synth ’80s soundtrack. You’ll find yourself laughing at the terrible things Lou is willing to say. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie this quotable. See Nightcrawler.
Riggan Thompson was once one of the biggest movie stars in the world. His early ’90s superhero franchise, Birdman, made billions at the box office. His star came crashing down when he turned down the role in Birdman 4. Now, 20 years later, Riggan is still hounded by his past as the lycra-wearing hero. Quite literally, he is haunted by the inner voice of his movie alter ego. He is mostly successful at shutting it out, which is necessary because he is in the process of opening his first Broadway play.
Riggan constantly runs into those close to him and none of them help alleviate his new stressful situation. As he deals with possible telekinetic powers and encroaching insanity, he also has to worry about the New York Times critic that will almost surely give his show a bad review, thereby closing it down.
Riggan’s costars, family and friends all join the proceedings and even become central characters as the omniscient camera shifts perspectives. Edward Norton is incredible as the last minute addition to the play. He is a hyper-realized version of himself as a character that is well respected but values method acting and his ego more than anything else. He will get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this. You may even see him as the central antagonist, but the actuality is Riggan is his own worst enemy.
Naomi Watts stars as the play’s insecure leading lady. Her only wish is to be accepted and be told that she’s finally made it. Emma Stone is Riggan’s daughter, who also helps run things behind the scenes in an attempt to keep herself busy so she doesn’t get involved with drugs again. Also, look out for a serious and welcome Zach Galifianakis as Riggan’s manager/lawyer.
One of the best supporting characters is actually the soundtrack, provided by drummer Antonio Sanchez. The only accompanying music is the sound of staccato percussion that designates the erratic pace of this live-action jazz song.
Keaton plays against type here. He plays a man who has the talent to overshadow his former typecasting, but knows he will forever be cursed by it. In a great scene between Riggan and the critic, she blankly tells him, “You’re not an actor, you’re a celebrity.” That’s something that has cursed him for over 20 years.
I haven’t really touched on how bizarre this movie gets. Riggan imagines himself to have the powers of flight and telekinesis, yet the movie will show us how clearly dillusional he is. Yet, at other times, trippy near-dream like scenes happen and we are never shown the truth of it. After a while, you have to go along for the erratic ride whether it makes sense or not. The ending, in particular, is too open-ended and could have wrapped up 10 minutes earlier.
This movie could be faulted for being art for art’s sake, but I still enjoyed the experience. Did I understand it all? No. but the performances and levity kept it afloat. It’s not perfect, but I really liked it. See this for Keaton and Norton alone. Also, every time that you hear Birdman speak, just imagine it’s Tim Burton’s Batman. It helps the experience.