The Films of Dan Gilroy
Nightcrawler (November 20/14)
Dan Gilroy's directorial debut, Nightcrawler follows Jake Gyllenhaal's Louis Bloom as he stumbles into the world of freelance video journalism - with the film detailing Bloom's subsequent escapades within Los Angeles' seedy underbelly. It's clear immediately that Nightcrawler has been designed primarily to showcase Gyllenhaal's undeniably spellbinding performance, as the movie, which runs a padded-out 117 minutes, is primarily focused on the protagonist's increasingly sleazy antics - with Gilroy's episodic screenplay paving the way for a film that's generally watchable but rarely engrossing. There is, however, little doubt that Gyllenhaal's mesmerizing work compensates for the movie's deficiencies on an ongoing basis, as the actor becomes his intense and downright creepy character to a degree that's nothing short of astonishing - with Gyllenhaal's career-best turn here immediately launching him into the same realm as folks like Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis (ie he's just that good). It's unfortunate, then, that Gilroy isn't able to infuse the narrative with a similar feeling of electricity, as Nightcrawler suffers from a decidedly repetitive midsection that's compounded by a lethargic pace (ie the narrative seems to be mostly devoted to scene after scene in which Bloom races from one crime scene to the next). The film admittedly does grow more and more intriguing as it progresses into its comparatively spellbinding third act, which ultimately does confirm its place as a passable effort that boasts a seriously above-average central performance.
Roman J. Israel, Esq.
A disappointing sophomore effort from Dan Gilroy, Roman J. Israel, Esq. follows Denzel Washington's title character, an oddball, possibly autistic lawyer, as he finds himself caught up in a variety of professional and personal complications triggered by the ill health of his mentor. Writer/director Gilroy is very clearly going for the vibe of a low-key character study with Roman J. Israel, Esq., as the filmmaker delivers a mostly episodic narrative that's ultimately more miss than hit - with Washington's eccentric and often distracting performance certainly perpetuating the decidedly uneven atmosphere. (The actor's usual charisma is significantly muted by his ongoing efforts at inhabiting the skin of this seriously off-the-wall figure.) It's perhaps not surprising to note that the movie, as a result, suffers from an almost total lack of momentum that is, to put it mildly, problematic, and there's consequently never a point at which one gets the impression or feeling that all of this is building towards something significant. Gilroy's unfocused modus operandi paves the way for a strange midsection rife with underwhelming digressions, including a palpably ineffective stretch detailing a series of confrontations (eg Roman encounters an obnoxious activist, an aggressive cop, and a violent mugger within the space of about five minutes). And although there are a handful of entertaining, engaging stretches (eg Roman finally decides to get his life together), Roman J. Israel, Esq. is, by and large, a distressing misfire that's hopefully just a minor speedbump from an otherwise promising filmmaker.