Mr Turner *****
The Guarantee ***
IN THE US, a Nightcrawler (16s) is a freelance journalist who trawls the city streets by night, camera at the ready, to film newsworthy items for the voracious TV networks.
A nightcrawler is also a worm used for fishing bait, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, as Louis Bloom, combines both interpretations of the word: he’s a slimy bottom-feeder mesmerised by the murky world of guerrilla journalism when he happens upon Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) filming a blood-spattered car accident.
Spotting a career opportunity that appeals to his sociopathic instincts, Louis buys himself a second-hand camcorder and a police scanner and dives deep into LA’s darkest corners.
What follows is an engrossing tale of psychosis played out against the backdrop of the media’s increasingly cynical take on the public’s appetite for the grim and gory.
Gyllenhaal is superb as the craven, ingratiating Louis, who quickly becomes a ghoulish parasite, thriving on the misery of others and adept at manipulating crime scenes to maximise their appeal to TV producer, Nina Romina (an excellent Rene Russo).
Writer-director Dan Gilroy deftly crafts a haunting psychological drama that denounces the media for leeching on society’s fears, as you might expect, but that also subtly questions the extent to which the public is complicit.
Blackly comic in the way Louis employs ‘corporate-speak’ to justify his downward moral spiral, Nightcrawler is compelling until it wobbles off-course into an unnecessarily melodramatic finale.
Mr Turner (12A) stars Timothy Spall as the celebrated English landscape artist, J.M.W. Turner, in a fragmented biopic that focuses on the last years of Turner’s life. Written and directed by Mike Leigh, the film eschews the usual biopic narrative of a struggling artist eventually gaining recognition.
Turner is long-established and respected when we first encounter him, and his artistic struggle is his attempt to refine his style into a body of work that would become celebrated as an early precursor of Impressionism.
Spall is brilliant, his gruff manners, coarse speech (but lyrical language) and gargoyle-like appearance in sharp contrast to the increasingly delicate and fragile canvases he produces, even as his health begins to fail.
It almost beggars belief that the sweating, growling, animalistic creature Spall conjures up can produce such superb work, but there is also a neat contrast between the sumptuous paintings and the plush surroundings of the mansions and galleries Turner visits, and Turner’s own prosaic living arrangements.
Mr Turner however, is much more than an artist’s story; Leigh doesn’t flinch from portraying the murky and immoral aspects of Turner’s personal life, as Turner, despite his professional success, turns his back on his wife and daughters and abandons them to penury, in favour of a relationship with Mrs Booth (Marion Bailey).
The story unfolds fitfully, in a non-linear narrative of sharply observed scenes that is, appropriately, reminiscent of strolling through a gallery of Impressionist paintings.
The film is a magnificent visual feast that is itself a work of art.
Appropriately enough for this time of year, The Guarantee (15A) is something of a horror story for Irish viewers, telling the story of the fateful decision made by the Irish government on the night of September 29, 2008 to guarantee the Irish banking system.
Adapted from his own play by Colin Murphy, and directed by Ian Power, the film features Gary Lydon as then Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, David Murray as Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, Morgan Jones as Sean Fitzpatrick, and Peter Coonan as David Drumm, the latter pair representing the toxic Anglo-Irish Bank.
Despite its theatrical origins, the story rarely gets under the skin of the various characters, who are totemic rather than fully fleshed-out individuals (Murray’s excellent portrayal of Lenihan is an honourable exception), and the film is further hamstrung because much of the story will already be known to even the most casual of observers.
But while The Guarantee isn’t a good film by the usual standards of narrative storytelling, it is fascinating in the way it braids together the strands of international and domestic financial turmoil, and presents Ireland’s beleagured politicians with the terrible vista of having to choose ‘the least worst option’ as global financial meltdown hovers like a spectre of doom.
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