Driving at Night
Nightcrawler impressed me much more the second time around than my viewing when it first came out in 2014. I really do think Gyllenhaal carries this — he has clearly worked to make himself a great actor. His performance is an excellent case of an actor legitimately disguising himself in his role, rather than hitting the notes of his persona, or relying on over the top accents or costumes. Much like Taxi Driver, Nightcrawler works far better using less than more — there is no tragic back story, motivation, or explanation as to why Louis is the way that he is. We see his bad bullshitting in the opening scene. Because we are not watching Nightcrawler in a vacuum, we know a darker turn is coming. Even with an impressive build up in the climactic scene, it manages to surprise us.
Outside of the hammy mirror scene, my only nitpick of Louis is simply his looks. I detect some level of vanity in Gyllenhaal — similar to Bradley Cooper, they’re unable to truly vandalize themselves like a Christian Bale or even Brad Pitt. Louis is too fashionable. With his sunglasses on, his expressive eyes that inform much of the character are not able to tell the story. Perhaps that’s his street smart LA chameleon tendencies coming into play, but I suspect that to not be such a decision being conscious in 2014. It just doesn’t make sense that someone this hot could be this much of a loner without any further explanation.
Similar to Taxi Driver in one final manner, in my opinion Nightcrawler suffers from an unnecessary epilogue. After Rick dies, there doesn’t need to be much more told. We have a good moment with the Renee Russo’s Nina character, who accepts her willingness to put whatever it is on screen that will garner ratings. But there hasn’t been quite enough build up to that moment paying off properly, and thus feels like a bit of a reach for a well-written woman with plenty of agency thus far.
The epilogue is probably the biggest hurdle from making it a classic for me. You can see a lot of talent from a filmmaker strung by a few questionable decisions that shouldn’t be held against him too early in his career. Studio involvement is certainly not out of the question. A fairly mundane score sneaks by, until the climactic scene of Louis getting out of his car to film the criminals crash. Displaying the actual silence of the scene — with the LAPD sirens bouncing around the valley in the far off distance — would have served a greater intensity.
Regardless, all the checkpoints of the plot — the slow build of Louis’ growth as a businessman and withering as a human being, work excellently. Riz Ahmed quite literally along for the ride plays the innocent Rick with a perfect level of sympathy and capability. Being a little more informed on movies today, I was probably expecting to like this less than my original watch. But Jake G got me again with a movie that’s somehow so clearly born out of it’s predecessors yet simultaneously unique.
Boogie Nights (1997)
I saw this TIFF a few weeks ago. , and was pleasantly suprised with a colourful and (unsurprisingly) eloquent introduction by Adam Nayman beforehand. I do wish he could explain every movie to me immediately prior to watching. Now I feel spoiled.
Anyway, last time I watched this I dropped it down from a 5 to 4.5 rating. This time, it’s a no doubter 5 after I found myself grinning from ear to ear at every human moment, excited to hear the people I was with watching it for the first time laugh at the same parts as me. I understand how much of a riff this is on PTA’s heroes. That does not make it less impressive to me. I think the criticisms on the slower second half and the lack of the depth in the characters are overblown.
As pointed out by Nayman in his Paul Thomas Anderson book; the second half of the movie is perfectly delineated by the end of the New Years party. It is often considered inferior to the first half in a manner similar to Full Metal Jacket’s almost isolated halves. In Boogie Nights, the characters are not in an entirely new environment akin to the literal transportation experienced in Full Metal Jacket.
The needle drops become darker but ultimately follow the same trend. The primary difference is the scenes amongst the cast are played against each other back and forth. Rather than the familial feeling we get in the first half, people have gone their separate ways. Despite the melancholic tone, I still found myself entranced by every scene. When Buck goes into the donut shop, the thought of him dying is emotional. The Alfred Molina scene is so uniquely comedic and intense, with every firecracker replicating the feelings of the characters more than any scene I can remember. Todd going off the rails is proof of the razor thin edge every character is sitting on.
Wahlberg’s flaws as an actor that lead to a sometimes mildly confusing motif are fully shored up by the eclectic surrounding cast. Horner plays things close to the vest (PTAs paternal themes are not difficult to grasp in his early stuff), and Amber is the obvious second fiddle to Dirk in terms of depth.
I think I was struck by just how much I love Buck, how much he helps uphold the themes of the movie. Buck is the only one who really “gets out; ” only by committing a crime out of happenstance. Cheadle’s acting in this is unbelievable. His vulnerability. His building anxiety as he sees the bank associate lose interest in his plea for a loan. And to see this performance just a day after I just watched him play an irredeemable yet simultaneously charming gangster in Devil in a Blue Dress. I was awestruck.
The innocence of Rollergirl and Scottie, Reed Rothschild’s insecurity evolves into misguided confidence. There is such an odd sense of virtuosity among the broader cast. Rollergirl’s juvenile demeanor is simply a different form of innocence displayed by Scottie and his tongue twisted behaviour around Dirk.
On their own I can understand the argument that they feel half-baked. (Surely there is a Becky Barnett scene cut in post). But together, the cast becomes greater than the sum of their parts, creating a versimilitude in a foreign world just as well as it’s predecessors of Nashville, Goodfellas, and any other helter skelter movie of such thrill.