The once very popular Murphy’s Law was stating ‘Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.’ The practical application of the saying into the space horror genre seems to be director Daniel Espinosa‘s Life. What if the worst assumptions and the deepest fears related to the long expected contact with alien life become true? This seems to be the premises of the film, coupled with an execution which salutes famous predecessors like Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey and Ridley Scott‘s Alien, but does it in a different dosage of the components adding a few of its own to be satisfying, interesting and thrilling.
The rules of fantastic fiction are well respected here as all starts in the familiar and thought-comfortable atmosphere of the space expedition returning from Mars and bringing back the first proof of alien life. Times Square fills with enthusiastic viewers of the life broadcast from the international space station where science mixes with trivia about food entering and exiting human body in no gravity conditions, and school kids give a household name (‘Kevin’) to the new form of life. It just happens that this very smart alien cell has the power to turn in a few minutes of screen time into a killing machine that will start devouring the crew whose mission of ensuring protection of Earth and life on the planet is in jeopardy, and gets suddenly much serious consequences.
For a serious science-fiction movie the script has huge holes and abounds in science gaffs, but this becomes secondary because of the good characters development. Quite unusual in the genre, we get to know the six astronauts, and when they start dying heroic but horrible deaths we already know and feel something for them. Good actors performance helps, with Jake Gyllenhaal excelling in his ‘guy-we-care-about’ routine. The sets also try something different, this space station has a lot of tubular corridors where the lack of gravity is induced to viewers by using camera position effects and the colors palette looks like the (dark) negative of the cool non-colors in Kubrick’s film. I will not say more about the ending then stating that this was one of the most unexpected and unsettling movie ends that I have seen lately. One more good reason not to miss this film, especially if you like science-fiction and horror.
It’s really amazing that ‘Nightcrawler‘ is the first directing achievement of Dan Gilroy – whose record only includes a few scripts (one of the Bourne series movies among them). It’s a real catchy, witty, brutal and realistic story about the thirst for sensations in the news and the monster it creates. It’s also a very well written story (Gilroy authored it as well) with crisp and interesting characters which we keep discovering as long as they are alive on screen. The visuals also have quality – on one hand I have visited Los Angeles recently, so I could not only recognize the places but also feel the atmosphere, on the other hand much of the action happens at night and is news related, so the nervous camera moves with focus on blood and violence makes a lot of sense.
The main character, Louis Bloom is unemployed. I suspect that the proximity with another more famous character L. Bloom is not coincidental, as like Joyce’s Ulysses he is wondering at nights in a big city, looking however to more earthly matters of life. He is a smart unemployed who spends his time navigating the Internet in search of educational and motivational stuff that can push him out of the current status of small criminal, steeling metals and selling them by the pound. The only problem is that nobody wants to hire him, despite his verbal skills of self-promotion, and the reason is bluntly put to him by a potential employer: ‘I am not hiring thieves’. There is however one industry that does not seem to have such scruples: it’s the crime news industry. Local TV networks are ready to pay good in order to serve their customers (us!) the bloodiest news and the most graphical images at breakfast time. Bloom will soon learn the technicalities of the profession, and find inside himself enough resources not only to survive but also to become successful in it.
The action takes place in Los Angeles, and we can even see the Hollywood sign at some point, but it’s far from the typical Hollywood production. It actually has more of an indie atmosphere, and reminded me at some moments ‘Drive’ which was released three years ago. Same intensity, same fringe world. The difference is in the approach. There are no good guys in ‘Nightcrawler’, maybe the exception of Lou’s assistant Rick (played by Riz Ahmed) who does not have much chance of survival in the world described by the film. The film takes also a sharp critical stand about the business, work and human (or should I say inhuman?) relation in the corporate world of America. The words we can hear day to day in the corporate environment sound so natural in the mouths of the criminals. Something must be wrong with the words or the way they are used.
On a higher level however the film is not only about the industry and one specific character that makes his way in it. It is also about the audiences who create the demand for sensationalistic news soaked in blood. About us.
Much of the quality of the film relies on Jake Gyllenhaal‘s performance as Bloom. Gyllenhaal has in this movie the sparkle, darkness and craziness of the big roles. He may not get the Academy Award this year, but he is getting close to that level. Rene Russo also provides an excellent support as the hungry producer ready to accept almost anything and to bend almost any moral or legal rules in order to rise the rating of her news show.
This was the first movie I have seen in 2015. I can only wish that the year in movies will be as good as this one.
Source Code is a rare kind of a film nowadays. A techno-thriller with brains and soul. No easy task, but apparently not a first for director Duncan Jones whose previous film Moon (which I did not see yet) has a large number of fans. This second full feature film establishes him as one of the most interesting directors in a genre which is not lacking opportunities in Hollywood, it is missing exactly the intellectual quality and the emotions that he is bringing on the set.
The main hero of the story is a US officer fighting in Afghanistan who wakes up in a train speeding to Chicago in the company of an attractive young woman and soon realizes that his identity and appearance have changed. A few minutes later the train explodes in a terror attack, and he wakes up in his own skin in the constrained space of what looks like a space capsule, to be briefed and learn that he has just lived the last eight minutes in the life of another person. By means of a combination of quantum physics and computer engineering he will be able to return several times in the speeding train and re-live the same events accumulating the knowledge from the previous instances, in alternate runs of the reality, with the goal of finding the terrorist and preventing a second much more damaging attack. Inevitably he will fall in love with the young woman in front of him and tray to save her life and the lives of the other people in the train. It is just that succeeding would actually sliding in a different reality or a parallel universe, name it as you wish.
Science in movies would almost in all cases fail you in technical universities exams, and the one in Source Code would probably not rank better if put under academic scrutiny. It has however two qualities that are important for the film – they allow for the repetition in a constrained space which provides the unity of space and time so dear to writers of good story since the Greek tragedies, and it is exposed gradually and learned by the main hero at the same time as the viewer, which helps us identify with the dilemmas and emotions of the character. Jake Gyllenhaal is an excellent choice for the role and all the other characters support him like a web threaded around his fight against the time to discover the truth and the moral and emotional choice that he makes in the final. A well made film, not too long, not too expensive (but not lacking a few spectacular moments), smart and sensible. One of a rare kind nowadays, did I already say it?