After a series of paintings by a recently deceased unknown artist are discovered, a group of artists try to get rich off the artist’s work, only to find the artwork fighting back.
There are movies that really grab you, and Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” was one of those movies for me. That film, also starring Jake Gyllenhall (“The Sisters Brothers”) was a brutally brilliant look at the cutthroat tactics it takes to start a business; it had a lot to say, but it also boasted amazing performances from Gyllenhall and Riz Ahmed (“Venom”). I was so enthralled with that film that I immediately put Dan Gilroy on my ‘Directors to Watch’ list. The moment I heard about this film, I looked forward to in with rapt anticipation.
Unfortunately, as they say, lightening doesn’t oft strike the same place twice.
“Critique is so limiting and emotionally draining.”
Let me star by saying that this film has a good message; it’s just not executed well. This film is about the greed that can surround art, and how that greed can be corrosive to everyone involved. I like how this film starts, by introducing us to a seemingly interesting bunch of characters that all are somehow involved in the art world, and I thought all of the performances were good, but that’s about as far as my praise for this movie goes. After the first twenty or so minutes, the film starts to loose focus. I was never sure if I was supposed to care for any of these characters or, like in a slasher horror film, if I was supposed to root for them to die. Likewise, I never knew if I was supposed to laugh or be terrified during the death scenes. Tone is a huge issue in this movie- I didn’t know what to feel, and as a result I felt absolutely nothing during most of this movie.
Another problem is characters, none of which are remotely likeable. Critics are often depicted as disagreeable people in films- and this film depicts them no differently. It’s fine if your main character is disagreeable, doing so can make your characters infinitely more compelling (see Mike Leigh’s “Naked”), it just makes it harder as a viewer for you to care about a protagonist. Gyllenhall isn’t exactly a jerk in this movie, but he’s not a great guy either; my views towards him were as tepid as can be, which is how I felt about this film as a whole. In fact almost every character in this movie felt pretty much the same way: flat. No one in the film was a bad enough person that they deserved the horrible things that happened to them, but they weren’t great people either, so I didn’t really feel all that bad for them.
I watched this film with fellow TMM author, Karl Nagurski, and both of us were rather bored for the first hour and fifteen minutes of it. There was one death scene at about that point that made us both cheer, not because the death scene was remarkably well done, but because something had actually happened and I had felt some kind of emotion. At that point, we came to the conclusion that if a film takes an hour and fifteen minutes to do something that gives you a modicum of emotion, it probably isn’t that good of a film. We finished the movie, and within two hours, Karl commented that he’d already forgotten most of it.
Well, Dan Gilroy, I’m sorry I didn’t like this film as much as I loved “Nightcrawler”, but hey, there’s always the next movie. As I said near the top of my review, there were some cool themes and ideas here, but they just aren’t flushed out enough for me to care. Making a message is fine, but that has to come second to telling a story that moves people. If message trumps story oftentimes we only feel like we’re sitting through an overtly didactic lecture. This movie wasn’t a lecture, but at times it was certainly as boring as one.
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