Sunday, April 12, 2015

MD Reviews: The Two Jakes


Thanks to a little movie called Brokeback Mountain (not to mention beefcake roles in Jarhead and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time), Jake Gyllenhaal will always be a favorite of gay audiences. But as his performances in Zodiac and Prisoners further proved, our Jake is also one of his generation's finest actors, able to create complex and compelling characters regardless of his matinee idol looks. In his two latest movies, the moody morality tale Nightcrawler and the psychological thriller Enemy, Gyllenhaal adds two (or is it three?) fascinating portrayals to his growing filmography.

In the former, set in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a small time thief who becomes a "nightcrawler", a freelance videographer who prowls the streets nightly, filming grisly accidents and crime scenes and selling the footage to the highest paying local TV news show hungry for exclusives. Lou is especially well-qualified for this new entrepreneurial venture, as he excels at manipulation, revels in the attention and, oh yeah, has absolutely no moral code. With his steely ambition, Lou will do anything to get ahead, from repositioning a dead body to get a better shot to exploiting a ratings-obsessed news producer (an electric Rene Russo, who, along with Gyllenhaal, should have been Oscar nominated for their performances here) into a sexual relationship. The stakes are raised considerably when Lou stumbles into a bloody home invasion and all bets, ethically and emphatically, are off.

Greasy haired and dorkily attired, Gyllenhaal creepily recalls another cinematic psychopath; he's the Norman Bates of the digital age. First time director Dan Gilroy (who also penned the film's Academy Award nominated screenplay) delivers a smart, tight, atmospheric trek into the dark side of humanity, populated by nightcrawlers and their unwitting prey.

Reteaming with his Prisoners director Denis Villeneuve, Gyllenhaal steps into a dual role in Enemy, a freaky mind fuck of a film with a twist ending so perplexingly polarizing you will either hail it as a brilliant, thought-provoking masterpiece or revile it as a convoluted, nonsensical "WTF" waste of time.

One on hand, Gyllenhaal plays Adam Bell, a rumpled college history teacher stuck in a rut, with his career, his girlfriend, his life. On the other hand, Gyllenhaal plays Anthony Claire, a scruffy wannabe actor with a history of cheating on his pregnant wife. By chance, Adam spots Anthony in a bit role in a movie and, struck by their amazing resemblance to each other, tracks him down. Their meeting only raises more questions: are they twins separated at birth? Two fractured personas of the same mentally ill person? And what's up with all the spiders?

Alas, there are no easy answers, although there are plenty of theories out there (this one is the most popular). And while I appreciate a movie that makes you think, and Gyllenhaal acts the hell out of his "two-sides of the same coin" role(s), Enemy never adds up. The only way what we see makes any sense is if you employ the "it's a dream" trope that hasn't worked since The Wizard of Oz. As other mind-binders like The Sixth Sense and Inception have proven, audiences are more than willing to play the game of Cinematic Twister, but not if the filmmakers make up the rules as they go along.

MD Ratings:
Nightcrawler: A-
Enemy: C

Nightcrawler and Enemy are now available on DVD and Blu-ray:

Review by Kirby Holt, creator and editor of Movie Dearest, The QuOD: The Queer Online Database and the Out Movie Guide.

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