Sunday, 31 January 2016

Three Great Movies About... L.A. Night Crawlers

A weekly series in which I watch a bunch of movies and pick out three of the best, each week a different theme and always spoiler-free. Published every Sunday night.

This is the first of a three-part series I'll be doing on movies about crime in Los Angeles. The theme for the first part is night crawlers, or in other words, loners who work the criminal nightshift and use vehicles to hunt down their victims. Much like New York, the city's flat grid layout makes for mighty fine driving scenes, car chases, and floaty moving camera street shots and cityscapes. There is something about the atmosphere of L.A. at night, the lighting in particular has a tint that makes it look more cinematic than most cities. Alas, they have apparently changed it all to LED now so the look of such films in future will never be the same.

Nightcrawler (2015)

"The best and clearest way that I can phrase it for you, to capture the spirit of what we air, is think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut."

This is of course my inspiration for this week's theme. I placed it 3rd in my best films of last year list, and after watching it again I think it might have deserved to be higher still. Jake Gyllenhall is Lou Bloom, an intense, creepy weirdo who gets himself into the business of filming the aftermath of horrific nighttime tragedies for television news. "If it bleeds it leads". So he and a hired assistant go fleeing around the city hunting for car crash and murder victims to film for money, getting more and more obsessed by obtaining footage that no-one else has. A proper thriller, totally original, and proves that no other actor these days does deranged outsiders as well as Gyllenhall.

It also shows how different American culture is - in the UK our breakfast news is usually along the lines of; a boring politician saying something boring, a visit to a cheese factory (cheese sales are up 1%) and a heartwarming story about some fluffy kittens.

Collateral (2004)

"Someday? Someday my dream will come? One night you will wake up and discover it never happened. It's all turned around on you. It never will. Suddenly you are old. Didn't happen, and it never will, because you were never going to do it anyway. You'll push it into memory and then zone out in your barco lounger, being hypnotized by daytime TV for the rest of your life."

Tom Cruise looks tired in this, deliberately so, going through the motions of his night job to pick up a pay check. The difference is that his job is that of a hitman, and we follow him over a single night as he tracks down his list of targets. He hires, or rather takes hostage, a yellow cab driver (Jamie Foxx) who is forced to become his chauffeur/accomplice for the evening. Jamie Foxx is excellent in the taxi driver role, and I thought it was a nice touch to see him being lectured on wasting his life - by his hostage taker. The neon lit streets of L.A. have probably never been photographed better than this, Cruise looks spiffing in his grey suit and grizzly appearance, it's the best script Michael Mann has been involved with and also for me his most satisfying film. I'd actually forgotten how good it is, not having seen it since initial release over a decade ago, and I really like when you rediscover a film after enough time has passed to make it fresh and unpredictable again.

Drive (2011)

"If I drive for you, you get your money. You tell me where we start, where we're going, where we're going afterwards. I give you five minutes when we get there. Anything happens in that five minutes and I'm yours. No matter what. Anything a minute on either side of that and you're on your own. I don't sit in while you're running it down. I don't carry a gun. I drive."

When I'm looking for films to write about I usually like to include something lesser known or that I hadn't seen before. For this theme though I couldn't look beyond Drive as my my last selection, it may be very well known already but that's because it's brilliant. And it gave me an excuse to watch it again. Ryan Gosling is a movie stuntman who also works as a getaway driver for criminals. It’s one of those films that is elevated to another level by the soundtrack, it’s so perfect that it seems impossible the songs weren’t written specifically for the film (Donnie Darko was another such example of that). Gosling’s character is effortlessly cool, yet carries the aura of terrifying violence should the need arise. When the violence comes it is brutal, maybe more graphic than it needed to be, and still he somehow remains likeable. This may be to do with his relationship with neighbour Carey Mulligan, the way they just stand smiling and staring at each other makes them both come across as slightly shy, normal people who can’t quite express their feelings. I love this film, and I think in decades ahead it will still be remembered as a classic. In the unlikely event anyone was ever remotely interested enough to ask me why I love movies so much, I’d just hand them a pile of films and tell them to go watch. This would be one of them.

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