"Gyllenhaal is a revelation once again, and the control of his instrument is a wonderful thing to witness. The character is unhinged, but precisely pitched. Unblinking and haunted, one imagines a rich back story for this character. While it’s never explicitly stated, much is suggested by Gyllenhaal’s fractured, on-the-edge performance and the environment around him; a lifetime of loneliness and isolation from an indifferent world that’s about to crack and manifest itself in all kinds of ugly fissures. The harsh fluorescent brilliance of “Nightcrawler” is just how in tune Gyllenhaal, Gilroy and the movie are. Bloom and the movie slowly uncoil in tandem lock and step to unveil much more than an unsocialized loner who’s listened to too many of Tony Robbins’ motivational speeches. But Gyllenhaal isn’t scene-chewing, and the humanity glimpsed early on is perhaps what makes his sinister transformation so creepy." [x]
Nightcrawler | Dan Gilroy, 2014.
Written and directed by Andrew Niccol, Good Kill takes place in 2010 and centres around former fighter pilot turned drone pilot Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke). Dissatisfied with his current post and increasingly relying on booze to get through the day to day, much to his wife Molly’s (January Jones) dismay, Thomas assignment grow even more troubling when he is repeatedly ordered to eliminate Taliban targets no matter the collated damage.
Good Kill is a film with a serious and recent subject matter. As most of us are aware, the U.S. has received an insurmountable amount of backlash for their sickeningly liberal use of drone strikes, which have only increased since Obama’s administration. The subject of drone attacks is ripe with questions about ethics, justice, terrorism and it is also one that film has not tackled before. Too bad the first film to do so is Good Kill, because this film not only provides a shallow examination of the issue but it is also actively being undermined by Niccol’s poor handle on story and characterization.
Andrew Niccol is a mystery to me. Here is a writer/director whose name somehow still holds prestige even though Niccol’s last good film, Lord of War, was nine fucking years ago. Since then he has directed classic gems like In Time, best example of cool concept atrocious execution, and The Host, wannabe Twilight piece of shit. Good Kill, I presume, is his attempt to go serious which is perfectly understandable after making people gouge their eyes out with The Host. The problem with Good Kill is that Niccol takes a very simplistic and generic approach to a subject matter that really deserves better. Let’s break things down.
There are only two female characters in the film: the wife and a soldier played by Zoe Kravitz. The soldier, besides inevitably being relegated to love interest, is so poorly-written to the point of being insulting. After some increased tension in the squad, Kravitz’s soldier suggest their squad go for a night out so obviously they decide to go to a strip club. I find it odd that Kravitz’s would decide to go to a place filled with semi-naked women after they witnessed a woman getting raped during their drone surveillance. Worse though is the fact that when Kravitz’ character is bonding with Ethan Hawke’s Major, she asks him about his background to which he provides a long answer to but when he asks her about her background she responds by asking him about his wife. I could say that maybe she was avoiding revealing something about herself, but nothing that we’ve seen before about her character would suggest that. Hell, her character is the one who can’t stop talking about how awful their job is. Moreover, the way the actors and the dialogue handle that situation in the strip club feels more like Andrew Niccol did not bother giving her a background story. Why bother with that character, right? Why make her human if she is just eye-candy?
Then we have the wife played by January Jones, who is one of those actress with singular talent, meaning that she is only good when she’s playing Betty Draper. But if you give her a grounded more normal no-cunt of a character, January Jones will fuck that shit up. Seeing her act in this film is painful and unintentionally hilarious at times. She also does not seem to fit into the film in terms of aesthetics. I have no issue with actresses looking pretty in film, but I do take offence to them looking like their in a photo-shoot 24/7. This is a continual problem in film where some actresses have perfectly styled hair and full make-up even when the scene has them waking up in the morning. Nobody looks that perfect in the morning, not even real-life Janurary Jones. This is something I could overlook if the film wasn’t trying to give me a realistic and humane portrayal of these people’s lives. Furthermore, January Jones is costumed in such a way that she is always the centre of attention. I’m guessing it is written in her contract that she must always look perfect. Who convinced Andrew Niccol that Jones was right for this role is a mystery to me, but it was an atrocious casting choice. Jones does more to get you out of the film than anything else and her chemistry with Ethan Hawke is non-existent. Actually, Hawke looks physically uncomfortable around Jones, which is a great way to sell that his character loves her. I did find it funny that our introduction to January Jones’ character is her screaming at her kids. Maybe Andrew Niccol does have a sense of humour after all.
Another big problem is that the film relies too heavily on the carnage of drone attacks to the point where you are desensitized by the constant scenes of buildings exploding and innocent people dying. It is as if showing us these acts is an adequate replacement for actual conversations or discussions about the issue. The very few “discussions” about the issue are passed off as short monologues that don’t really add much. This is why Good Kill fails. It does not give us any insight into drone attacks, it has nothing thoughtful to say beyond a barely marginal view on the war. It is like having a film about the Vietnam war take place in Antarctica with people mentioning Vietnam not only in passing, but also saying “oh yea, that war was bad, right?” What is the point of tackling such a sensitive and serious subject matter if I’m going to come out of it knowing less? Even more surprising is the fact that Andrew Niccol was able to say so much about war, corruption, violence and humanity in Lord of War. His utter lack of thoughtfulness in this film makes me believe that his choice to tackle the issue of drone strikes was a fluke, a publicity act to garner attention.
There are subject matters in this world that need to be handled with the sensitivity and seriousness they deserve. Doing otherwise is insulting and undermines all the lives affected by the issue. And if you are not going to take this seriously then don’t pretend you are. Andrew Niccol may have directed some cool films at the beginning of his career, but he is completely out of his depth here. His dialogue is subpar, generic and forgettable, his characterization is degrading to both women and soldiers, and his lack of insight into the issue is appalling. Good Kill feels like a Hollywood assembly-made film thinking that just because it centres on something serious that automatically gives it a pass. Relying on generic conventions and not committing to the supposed grounded and gritty tone of the story effectively kill the film. The performances don’t deliver and the music selection is so jarring at times that they further prove how cavalier Andrew Niccol’s handle of this story is.
TIFF Review: Anchored By Powerhouse Performance from Tom Hardy, ’The Drop’ Is One of The Highlights of 2014.
As bartender Bob (Tom Hardy) explains it, money is constantly exchanging hands in the underworld of Brooklyn and once all that money is gathered it must be secured somewhere. Bars have become drop points and no money ever stays in one bar for long. One night while closing the bar with his employer Cousin Marv’s (James Gandolfini), the bar is robbed and Bob finds himself entwined in an investigation that see his past return to haunt him. Things are exacerbated even further when he befriends Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and her ex-boyfriend Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) starts trouble.
For those who do not know, The Drop is the film where Tom Hardy has a puppy. Both him and the puppy are awesome, but we’ll get to that later. Written by the consistently brilliant Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island, Gone Baby Gone, The Wire), The Drop is the english-directorial debut of Michäel R. Roskam (Bullhead). This is a curious film in that even though it is a slow-burn it does not feel like one. Things are constantly happening and the pace is not slow, but while watching the film you feel this gradual progression, like clouds carefully forming to deliver a bombastic thunderstorm. Roskam’s direction is exemplary and he is able to instil even the most mundane scenes with an underlying tension. Scenes have a palpable sense of danger and dread, and what’s most intriguing is that even with all these underlying sentiments The Drop sometimes is really funny. Roskam and Lehane were able to capture the humour and at times absurdity within dangerous circumstances, which not only help ground the proceedings but also provide us with a more humane perspective.
Much of what the film is in terms of tone and pace is directly connected to Tom Hardy’s character. What I love about Tom Hardy is that he is consistently good. His last couple of films have seem him take on very distinctive characters and with each of them he has been able to provide us with new facets of his abilities. Hardy is also one of those actors who is able to inject each performance with a different cadence, which go a long way in enhancing his immersion into the role. I’m not from Brooklyn so I can’t say if his Brooklyn accent is 100% accurate, but from being bombarded with that accent in so many TV shows and films I’d say his accent sounds believable enough. The accent doesn’t distract from the performance, in fact the accent aids in painting his character in a much more tender light. Hardy’s character is the more honourable figure in the film, but from the beginning Hardy communicates that there is an underlying darkness at play as well. Much like the film, his performance is slowly building to that final thunderstorm and when it comes the payoff is exhilarating. Tom Hardy effortlessly carries The Drop. His performance is filled with nuances and an intoxicating charisma. It is a quiet, subtle and affective performance that further cements his leading-man status.
The supporting cast of The Drop is also filled with remarkable performances. The late James Gandolfini shines as Cousin Marv, a former crime boss who has lost almost everything. Besides having an effective and palpable chemistry with Hardy, Gandolfini is capable of adding layers to his character and in turn render Cousin Marv into a more complicated character. He is charming, funny and darkly serious at times. It is great performance that some people are saying it should receive a posthumous Oscar. I disagree with Oscar part, because if Gandolfini did not even get a nomination for his two better performances in Killing Them Softly and Enough Said then it will not happen with The Drop. Nevertheless, his performance here is a great send off to one of the most accomplished and awesome actors. Elsewhere we Noomi Rapace and Matthias Schoenaerts. Even though their characters have little screen time, their performances are so rich and lived-in that every time they appear they grab a hold of you. Doing this to even greater effect is Ann Dowd who only has two scenes in the film and is able to not only create a beautiful chemistry with Gandolfini, but is also one of those quiet performances in the background that if you pay close attention to can witness the interesting things she is doing. Lastly there is the puppy, who in the film is named Rocco. Surprisingly, the puppy’s role in the film is very significant to the plot and the protagonist’s arc. He is cute and I really want one.
The Drop is an intense and fascinating thriller. This is one of those films where all of its various elements come together in beautifully effective unison. The script by Dennis Lehane, which I believe is his first feature-film script, is excellent. Sharp, witty dialogue and a story that is distinctive, interesting and with a brilliant finale. Director Michäel R. Roskam was able to craft a intriguing film with haunting images and grounded, genuinely funny and at imps disturbing moments. There is an underlying mystery in The Drop and as the more pieces are revealed, the more intense things get. This is a first-class example of how to do a thriller right. The cast do a great job as well with every actress and actor delivering effective and memorable performances. But the highlight of it all, the outstanding figure of The Drop is none other than Tom Hardy. His incredible, likeable and soft-spoken performance sets the tone for the whole film. He showcases facets of his abilities that we hadn’t seen before and populates his performance with interesting subtleties that demand a second viewing. The Drop is one of the better films I’ve seen this year and it is poise to be on everyone’s end of year best list.
New Poster for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1.
In The Reach, Michael Douglas plays a high-rolling corporate shark named Madec who hires Ben (Jeremy Irvine) to guide him through a hunting trip in the Mojave Desert. Out in the wilderness, the trip starts off pleasant enough until and accidental shot from Madec claims the life of a wanderer. Ben aims to do the right thing and report the murder, but Madec has an alternate plan that forces Ben to play prey in the most dangerous game.
This was one of the screenings TIFF chose for me and twenty minutes into the film it dawn on me what a misfire that choice was. The Reach is a terrible film that fails horribly at being a thriller. The point of thrillers is to create a landscape of suspense, to inject the story with unexpected turns and deliver a tense experience. The Reach falls prey to the current state of thrillers/horror films in that they lack subtlety. Actually, the more accurate statement would be that The Reach has no idea what subtlety even means. The film relies on over-the-top ridiculous moments that actively kill suspense. The editing in particular is one of the worse offenders. During the scenes of “intense” action there will be these rapid cuts on action that not only distract and defuse the situation, but also are so blatantly forceful in their attempt to “heighten” the intensity of the scene that they come off being unintentionally hilarious. Watching those scenes you get the sense that the filmmakers were checking off all the generic cinematic techniques that they think create suspense.
Augmenting the film’s problems is the utterly predictable story. Every twist that occurs in the film is visible from miles away. In fact, all the story beats and turns are so blatantly obvious that you almost feel like it is on purpose. Worse is the fact that prior to The Reach starting, the presenter of the festival talked about it and sold it to us as this character-driven story where the characters motives and actions are filled with mystery. The only mystery here is why the fuck did these actors even agree to be in this pile of nonsensical, generic garbage. The two main characters in this film are not only one-dimensional, but they are also cardboard copies of millions of other characters seen before. There is nothing new, significant or even remotely redeeming about these two characters. I did find it hilarious how Madec, the villain of the film, acted exactly like a villain in a cartoon show. First, he had a million chances to effectively kill the hero and yet constantly decides not to kill him. Madec even falls for the cliche “hero pretending to be dead” gag. He doesn’t even get close to the body to make sure his enemy is actually dead, instead he just leaves the “corpse” there. Madec probably knows that the story would end otherwise and then the filmmakers would have to come up with an original thought to perhaps move things forward.
Michael Douglas does seem to be having a lot of fun playing his character. He can’t resist going over-the-top time and time again. But it is a hollow performance, there is no nuance or even the slightest glimmer that Madec resembles an actual person. He is a cartoon character equipped with a maniacal laugh and idiocy running throughout his fake veins that clearly make him believe that he can outsmart the hero. It is a ludicrous performance. Then we have Jeremy Irvine who for the longest time I could not remember what film he came out of. It was War Horse by the way, a.k.a. the worse fucking Spielberg film. Just like Douglas’ Madec, Irvine’s Ben is the cartoon hero of the film who will literally survive everything. His character is the more believable one of the film, as Ben seems to be the only one with a functioning brain. Irvine’s performance is okay if a little lacklustre and increasingly forgettable. At least Irvine provide some much needed and welcoming eye candy. Dude is fit and I thank the director for having Irvine semi-nude for most of the film. I’m sure that is what got most of us through this pile of shit.
The Reach is easily one of the worse films I have seen this year. Here I thought that even if I didn’t like most of the films I saw at TIFF, I would at least enjoy them all. The Reach is so far from enjoyable that it might as well be a total alien concept. The story is predictable, ludicrous and without anything of note to say. It is a thriller devoid of suspense even though it is trying really hard to create an intense and exhilarating experience. I get more intensity from letting out a fart than from watching this film. To be honest, the flaws of this film are so blatant and in your face that The Reach almost feels satirical. Like the film is one big inside joke and the filmmakers are laughing at TIFF for agreeing to feature this piece of shit of a film, which by the way premiered in arguably the most important theatre in Toronto. Oddly enough, most people in the screening seemed to enjoy this film. They clapped and cheered while I sat there in silence contemplating the massive disconnect between me and all of these old people. Would it be terribly arrogant of me to assume these people also laugh at The Big Band Theory?