Recently released to Home Video and VOD, one of the most criminally underrated movies of last year was Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. While everyone was losing their shit over Michael Keaton and Steve Carell, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance was toiling in relative obscurity earning well deserved comparisons to both Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle and Heath Ledger’s Joker as unhinged amateur news footage scavenger Louis Bloom. But even as monstrous as Gyllenhaal’s character becomes over the course of the film, he is evenly matched by the neon drenched hellscape of the film’s setting: Los Angeles.
Of course it’s a cliché, the old adage of “be careful what you wish for” in regard to fame and fortune, and Hollywood as the “boulevard of broken dreams”, but few films truly achieve making the west coast appear just as nightmarish as New York in Scorsese’s aforementioned Taxi Driver. Here are our favorites:
Young Paxton, center.
The presence of Bill Paxton in Nightcrawler immediately brings to mind another classic that sets LA as a playground for wanton death and destruction: The Terminator. James Cameron’s seminal 1984 masterpiece set Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cybernetic killing machine loose on an LA shot to seem just as menacing as the cyborg himself. Paxton appears briefly as one of the Punk Rockers that the T-800 steals his clothes from. Paul Wynnefield and Lance Henriksen further sell the idea of “LA as Hell” as a pair of seen-it-all cops who assume Schwarzenegger’s indestructible future assassin is “probably just on PCP”.
Going back to Cali.
Schwarzenegger returns to LA in 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Here Cameron dials down the Noir atmosphere and ratchets up the action but there are still several iconic scenes involving LA backdrops, including the classic white knuckle Harley vs. Tractor Trailer chase through the LA River.
The Film’s marketing wisely highlighted the new urban milieu.
Paxton appears again in Predator 2, not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination but makes excellent use of LA as a hell-on-earth warzone. During a record heat wave in the far flung future of 1997 (the movie was released in ’90) the titular alien hunter makes bloody sport of the LAPD, Cocaine running Mexican Drug Cartels, and the most fearsome animal known to man, Gary Busey.
I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy…
There was one recent movie I just couldn’t stop thinking about while viewing Nightcrawler though and that was 2011’s Drive, Nicholas Winding Refn’s violent instant classic. Ryan Gosling’s nameless “Driver” doesn’t go looking for trouble the way Gyllenhaal’s Bloom does and therefore winds up swallowed by the abyss of the LA underworld rather than rising above it, however undeservedly. Be careful what you wish for indeed.
By Kevin Hawkey