05th Feb2019

‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette, John Malkovich, Daveed Diggs, Natalia Dyer, Billy Magnussen | Written and Directed by Dan Gilroy

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Dan Gilroy returns with the stylishly abstract and vivid subverted injection of horror in Velvet Buzzsaw. Five years after his breakout directorial debut Nightcrawler and two years after his sophomore Oscar-nominated Denzel Washington starring effort Roman J. Israel, Esq., Velvet Buzzsaw sees him return with his Nightcrawler crew in the likes of on-screen talent of Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, as well as producer Jennifer Fox, editor John Gilroy with cinematographer Robert Elswit. The result is a fabulous esoteric concoction of abstract and high-end pretentiousness. Wrapped in cheap glitz comparable to that of a McDonalds Happy Meal and I adored every single second of it.

Velvet Buzzsaw, from the outside, is an intimidating cluster fuck of abstract imagination and collective abrasiveness. A true and obvious reflection of social commentary regarding the politics and society of art itself. However, cut away the loud and hilariously obnoxious fat and stay with the material, what is soon revealed is a film that just wants to blast cheap chic pop music up to eleven and drink Château Latour in white pumps, meanwhile watching the toxic decrepit world burn around while romanticising every sound and drop.

Gilroy’s film while perhaps evokes a sense of self-referential grandeur and overly serious tone regarding its characters is never in the business to accurately portray or take responsibility for its own actions, never taking itself overly serious to the point of unironic enjoyment but does rest on a satirical approach. A testament and credit of the films intoxicatingly engaging and highly entertaining screenplay from Gilroy himself. Jake Gyllenhaal, showing another distinctive layer to his ever-growing range, has little difficulty in enhancing a one-dimensional character. Never wrestling with the heightened dialogue and emotional obscurity of a character such as Morf Vandewalt. He’s outrageously charismatic with a sizeable screen presence. The venomous charm, especially in Russo’s Rhodora Haze company is fabulously fiery, albeit slightly underwhelming with little screen time together reminiscent of their chemistry in Nightcrawler.

Supporting players of Zawe Ashton as Josephina, Toni Collette as Gretchen, Daveed Diggs and John Malkovich as Damrish and Piers respectively, are all layered in bit parts that are engaging or with a fair dose of screen presence. Ashton, in particular showcases particularly terrific range, with an emotionally and menacingly detailed performance. Malkovich steals the show as a vivid alcoholic artist turned sober slob – his sarcastic, meandering outlook is wonderfully tongue and cheek.

Collette, continuing her fabulous year, puts forth another terrific performance in a role that is no way different to what she’s crafted before in terms of subtle aggressiveness and underneath point scoring but while the character has plenty of screen time she’s not explicitly explored with any intriguing depth. The same could be said of Natalia Dyer’s Coco and Billy Magnussen’s Bryson -  two rising stars respectively who are severely understated in overcrowded material. Perhaps a subtextual point of the plastic and lifeless industry itself, however, if indeed the idea it falls flat with little conviction.

Velvet Buzzsaw is the cinematic equivalent of a lighting a match and throwing into an oil drum. The result is an inevitable visual explosion of both vivid visuals and heightened colour. Undoubtedly outlandish and breathtaking to see on screen, yet a nightmarish depiction of something you are never quite ready to see depicted in a poeticised manner.

Velvet Buzzsaw is available to watch on Netflix now.

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