Beat Breakdown #2: Nightcrawler

In this installment of the Beat Breakdown we’ll be taking a look at the 2014 neo-noir crime thriller Nightcrawler, written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The film was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay at the 87th Academy Awards.

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To view a .pdf of the screenplay, click here.

PLOT SYNOPSIS

The story follows mysterious loner (and psycho) Lou Bloom as he skulks around Los Angeles in search of gainful employment. With the often reluctant help of world-weary station manager Nina, Lou begins skulking with a purpose as he embarks on an ignoble crusade to capture LA’s most shocking crimes on camera. Lou takes to his new position as a “nightcrawler” with admirable zeal, but is Lou driven by good old professional integrity, or perhaps something infinitely more sinister?

INCITING INCIDENT

(Pages 6-12) The film begins with a bit of exposition, introducing us to Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom, our wiry-looking protagonist with a superficial smile and unnerving presence. As Lou cruises around LA one fateful evening, he happens upon a grizzly scene involving two police officers pulling an unconscious woman from a blazing car. As Lou gapes at the scene, spellbound by the flashing lights and shattered glass, a news van screeches to a halt, depositing a hassled cameraman who immediately begins filming the wreckage. Lou, still enraptured by the profane pageantry a day later, idly sits at home flipping through daytime news channels. Suddenly he stops, frozen, as a report of the wreck from the night before flashes across the screen. We can practically see the infernal cogs inside Lou’s head begin to turn, as the seed of turmoil takes root.

PLOT POINT ONE

(Pages 17-23) So the seed of turmoil has grown into a shrubbery of mischief as Lou acquires the camcorder and police scanner that are the staples of nightcrawling. Gardening metaphors aside, Lou’s luck eventually turns when he manages to get an unrestricted, close-up shot of a shooting victim, complete with graphic brain-chunks a reasonably-sized pool of blood. Naturally, this kind of footage is just what the KSML-TV News crew is looking for. In short order, Lou makes the acquaintance of the station manager, played by Rene Russo, who cuts him a check for his work. Rene encourages Lou to continue his nightcrawling, and offers him this piece of advice: “…to capture what we air, think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

MIDPOINT

(Pages 46-49) To punctuate Lou’s meteoric rise in the world of nightcrawling, Nina when they meet for dinner at Cabanita—which has been called an authentic taste of Mexico City. Nina’s pretensions are shattered, however, when Lou reveals the sociopathic tendencies hiding behind his facade of wholesome professionalism. Lou effectively blackmails Nina into engaging in a romantic relationship, despite her protestations and, in the process, sheds more light on his motivations and goals. In Lou’s own words, he “wants to be the guy who owns the station that owns the camera.” All that’s left for the audience to do is wait for the volatile mixture of complete ethical bankruptcy and psychotic single-minded ambition to come to a head—in assuredly spectacular fashion.

PLOT POINT TWO

(Pages 60-70) It’s business as usual for Lou, who’s taken on a new employee in an effort to minimize his effectiveness while on the job. With Lou now firmly entrenched in the administrative culture of KSML, he’s got find a story worth reporting, lest he lose his position of power over Nina. While pursuing a possible story late one night, Lou picks up another conveniently located crime on the police scanner. Without a moment to lose, he hightails it to the scene, arrive even before the police. Abandoning even the pretense of journalistic integrity, Lou enters the scene to find a murdered family, quickly and efficiently recording the whole thing, naturally. Racing back to KSML to sell the story, Lou promises Nina that the story isn’t over, and that she can expect the follow-up to boost the tin-pot station’s ratings to unprecedented levels. Unbeknownst to Nina, Lou secretly captured the license plate of the perpetrator’s car, meaning that he alone knows where to find the suspects, and subsequently that he alone can break the story.

CRISIS AND CLIMAX

(Pages 81-97) Not twenty-four hours later, Lou has tracked down the suspects and, along with his employee, Rick, plan to tail them, only calling in the cops at the opportune moment. The suspects, a pair a burly gangsters, arrive at a busy restaurant—the perfect place to film their “dramatic” arrest. Rick, however, is given pause for thought as he considers how dangerous this operation might turn out to be. Undeterred, Lou proceeds to tip off the police, already in the prime position to capture the arrest on film. The police arrive shortly, and it’s immediately clear that the suspects have no intention of coming quietly. A thrilling, high-speed chase through the busy Los Angeles streets ensues, ending in the suspects’ car overturning. What follows is difficult to describe in a non-visual medium, but essentially, Lou notices that one of the suspects is still armed, despite his near-fatal crash, and motions for Rick to go over to him and start recording. The suspect, injured and with nothing left to loose, shoots and fatally wounds Rick and Lou captures his last moments on camera. With this, the audience realizes who and what Lou really is, and that there’s nothing he won’t sacrifice to achieve his ends.

DENOUEMENT

(Pages 98-108) Rick’s death serves as the emotional high-point of the film, and all subsequent action does little more than reinforce what the audience already knows about Lou. There’s a truncated police investigation surrounding the killings and the video “evidence” that Lou recorded at the scene, but since the police can’t prove anything, it’s little more than a formality. The film’s ending is appropriately nihilistic, but in a sort of knowing way, as if it’s simply the conformation of something we had known all a long. In the final scene, Lou stands before his new employees, imparting a few words of wisdom before they drive off, documenting and causing mayhem of their own, extensions of Lou himself, as if they were his own treacherous tendrils extending, groping blindly, searching, and gleefully seizing upon and exposing violence and discord in the dark Los Angles night. Lou leaves his new employees with this: “I can tell you from experience that the surest way up the ladder is to listen carefully and follow my orders. You may be confused at times, and other times unsure, but remember that I will never ask you to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.”

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Andrew’s Top 10 Movies of 2014

I really thought 2014 was going to be a bad year for movies. There were only a few projects I was excited about, and a very disappointing series of spring and summer releases seemed to solidify this initial belief as the year dragged on towards “Award Season”. But boy, did things ever turn around. The past few months have had some really fantastic films, and in my mind easily made up of the lackluster first half of the year. Here are a few of my favorite films from 2014:

10. Calvary | John Michael McDonagh

A sorely overlooked and under-appreciated pitch black comedy from John Michael McDonagh (The Guard), Calvary is a bleak, dark, and perhaps profound look at religion in today’s world. Brendan Gleeson gives an absolutely stellar performance as a priest in a small Irish village who must cope with the fact that a stranger has vowed to kill him at the end of the week. As always, McDonagh is a master of dark comedy, and delivers a very enjoyable, albeit bittersweet film.

9. Edge of Tomorrow | Doug Liman

By far the biggest surprise of the year for me, I never would have expected Edge of Tomorrow to end up on this list after I saw the commercial. But damn, was it good. This Groundhog Day-esque sci-fi film is a nearly-perfect summer blockbuster in my mind, and a perfect environment for leading man Tom Cruise to shine as a charismatic, manipulative member of the military, dragged into the role of unlikely hero. With the exception of a pretty mediocre ending, Edge of Tomorrow far exceeded my expectations for a summer sci-fi flick.

8. The Theory of Everything | James Marsh

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More than just a biopic of one of the world’s greatest scientific minds, Theory of Everything is a tragic and incredible story of triumph and struggle. Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones deliver two of the most powerful performances of the year as Steven and Jane Hawking. The storytelling is compelling and extremely well-paced, and Redmayne’s role of Hawking offers a perfect outlet to show off his serious acting chops like never before. For my money, he is a serious contender for Best Actor this year.

7. Whiplash | Damien Chazelle

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An intense and unsettling character study, Whiplash is a film about the cost of excellence. MilesTeller stars as a borderline obsessive jazz drummer striving to surpass his classmates and become the best who ever lived. The films biggest credit is the building conflict between Teller and his professor, played by J.K. Simmons, who abuses his students emotionally and verbally in an attempt to push them to become better musicians. The tension between the two actors is palpable, and their intensity carries the film.

6. Gone Girl | David Fincher

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Yet another excellent dark and psychological film from David Fincher, Gone Girl really tries to do something different with the thriller genre. Despite a few missed beats throughout the film, Gone Girl is airtight, and packed with a few very satisfying twists throughout, including a pretty unconventional and unexpected ending that really made the film for me. Affleck is great as always, and proves yet again that he is fully capable of handling demanding leading roles.

5. The Imitation Game | Morten Tyldum

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As someone who has a strong interest in programming, it’s unsurprising that I would have a soft spot for this film. However, this movie is so much more than a film for those interested in the material. The cracking of the German Enigma machine is a fascinating piece of history, but the film is really more of a look at the life of Alan Turing, the father of modern computing and the man put in charge of the project to crack Enigma. The film focuses heavily on the issue of the treatment of homosexuals during the World War II era, and Benedict Cumberbatch shows some serious acting chops in portraying a socially inept and emotionally conflicted Turing. I would not be surprised in the slightest if this film is awarded best picture this year, and would be entirely satisfied with that verdict.

4. Foxcatcher | Bennett Miller

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Foxcatcher was one of the most talked-about films this year due to Steve Carrel’s transformative star turn as wrestling-lover and obscenely rich guy John Du Ponte, and after seeing the film there is clearly a reason for all the commotion. Carrel is incredible, disturbing and ominous; however it would be a disservice to the film to not also talk about Channing Tatum as Olympic gold medalist Mark Shultz, who gives an equally powerful and unexpected performance. Aside from the acting, Foxcatcher a very slow build to a very satisfying payoff, ratcheting up suspense as all the characters become more and more fragile and spiral towards the eventual climax of the film.

3. Wild | Jean-Marc Vallée

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Yet another “based on true events” movie this year, Wild tells the story of a former heroin addict’s journey hiking the 2000+ mile Pacific Crest Trail alone. I was by no means enticed by this premise, and in addition am not a particularly big fan of Reese Witherspoon. That being said, this film was hugely impressive. Witherspoon absolutely nails it, and director Jean-Marc Vallee’s use of quick cutting and flashbacks are extremely effective at giving emotional weight to the movie as we slowly learn more about Sheryl Strayed’s past. I have now seen the film twice, and the second viewing only solidified this movie’s position on my top 10.

2. Nightcrawler | Dan Gilroy 

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Sinister and charismatic, Jake Gyllenhaal easily delivers the best performance of his career as a free-lance video-journalist in Nightcrawler. The film is methodical, slowly building tension and a profound sense of dread. Throughout the entire movie, it is impossible to shake the feeling that something could go horribly wrong at any moment. Nightcrawler is by far the most gripping film I have seen this year, and I was completely enthralled from start to finish.

1. Birdman | Alejandro González Iñárritu

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Without a doubt, Birdman was my favorite film of the year. I have now seen it multiple times in theaters, and something I fully intend to see several more times. It’s extraordinarily well-acted and written, both Michael Keaton and Edward Norton shine, but it is the cinematography that cinched this as my number one choice, as there is a visual gimmick throughout the film that I was pretty taken with. The film is not just about the desire for fame or redemption, but taps into the most basic human need to find significance and recognition in life. Birdman is a little surreal, and more than a little funny, and while it might not be the film of the year for everyone, it is definitely a must-see.

Albert’s Top 10 Movies of 2014

I feel unwilling yet obligated to post a Top 10 list this year. Attempting to strong-arm my way into the critical culture that surrounds cinema is often exhausting work, and let it be known that all critics, not just me, have to sort through a lot of chaff to get to the good stuff. But I feel it’s necessary to recommend a few of last year’s films, not least of all because the year began so shakily, and you would be forgiven, as I was tempted to do, to write-off 2014 all together. But, without further ado, here’s a collection of films from the past year that I enjoyed, and which I grudgingly have to refer to as my Top 10 (in no order).

As always, I’m limiting my top films to those that I’ve seen this year, which unfortunately means I have to exclude Selma and Inherent Vice outright, thanks to their “limited release” status.

Foxcatcher | Bennett Miller

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Dark, atmospheric, and tense, Foxcatcher is a slow-boil, character driven film that rises to a chilling climax. This well-executed film includes a transformative performance by Steve Carell as mysterious and deeply conflicted billionaire John DuPont, which, in my opinion, ought to earn him an Oscar.

Gone Girl | David Fincher

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Fincher has done it again with this twisted and compelling thriller. Solid acting and an omnipresent bleakness of tone help to elevate this film to a top-tier production. Though not without its faults, Gone Girl primarily succeeds thanks to its excellent screenplay, written by original author Gillian Flynn, and rightly deserves it spot on the list.

Whiplash | Damien Chazelle

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Whiplash is at once supremely human and oddly terrifying. Starring Miles Teller, perhaps the hottest up-and-coming young actor in Hollywood, as well as the always-terrific J. K. Simmons, the film is a high-energy yet intimate experience that is sure to keep you hooked until the very end.

Nightcrawler | Dan Gilroy

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Are we sensing a pattern here, perhaps? Another supremely dark film, Nightcrawler represents the benchmark in Jake Gyllenhaal’s career thus far. Superbly acted and filled with unpredictable twists and turns, the film is an entrancing journey into the dark depths of a sociopath’s psyche.

The Drop | Michaël R. Roskam

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This film, despite the contention it raised among my Simply Film colleagues, remains one of my favorites on this list. A dyed-in-the-wool crime thriller, The Drop features some outstanding acting by both Tom Hardy and the late James Gandolfini, and climaxes in one of the most beautifully understated endings that I’ve ever seen, period.

The Raid 2 | Gareth Evans

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Endlessly imaginative and gleefully brutal, The Raid 2 is one of the most flat-out fun films released this year. Though the story may be a bit bare-bonesey, the focus is firmly fixed on the action—to the film’s credit, I think. I mean, there’s a blind woman who fights with a pair of hammers. What else do you need to know, really?

Edge of Tomorrow | Doug Liman

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Edge of Tomorrow was sort of a surprise entry on this list, but decidedly earns its place here nonetheless. With a clever little story and some truly impressive action sequences, the film is one of the best original science fiction properties to be released, I’d argue, in the last decade.

The Grand Budapest Hotel | Wes Anderson

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Perhaps one of the most auteur directors ever to come out of Hollywood, Wes Anderson has admittedly had some misses in his time, but The Grand Budapest Hotel isn’t one of them. At once viciously funny and strangely poignant, the film includes Anderson’s signature sugary-sweet, dollhouse aesthetic sensibility while maintaining a tight focus on the vibrant characters that populate his world.

Snowpiercer | Bong Joon-ho

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Director Bong Joon-ho proves, once again, why he remains the premier South Korean filmmaker in the West, with his newest film. Starring Chris Evans as a scrappy revolutionary, Snowpiercer is a high-concept sci-fi odyssey that portrays the decaying state of the human race, all while maintaining an undeniably beautiful visual style and atmosphere.

The Lego Movie | Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

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The thing that you’ve got to understand about The Lego Movie is that no one, myself included, really expected it to blow up like it did. What I had initially pegged as merely a glorified advertisement for Lego turned out to be so shamelessly funny and imaginative that I felt no recourse but to include it on this list.

A couple of films, listed below, were good enough to deserve at least a mention, but fell just shy of a coveted position on the Top 10 list. They include:

How to Train Your Dragon 2 | Dean DeBlois

Big Eyes | Tim Burton

Listen Up Philip | Alex Ross Perry

 

That’s all there is. There isn’t any more. Good riddance to 2014.