Film Review: Under The Silver Lake

David Robert Mitchell’s Under The Silver Lake is enigmatic and compelling. Mitchell surpasses It Follows with  some outstanding filmmaking.

Sam notices a mysterious woman swimming in his apartment complex’s pool. When she goes missing, Sam embarks on a quest to discover what happened to her…

Under The Silver Lake is an engrossing mystery. For the first quarter of the film, writer-director David Robert Mitchell throws quite a bit at the audience. This includes the dog killer, the missing billionaire, and the voyeurism of the protagonist. The combination of real and imagined keeps viewers guessing.

Exposition through news reports works well to give necessary details in a succinct manner. The Comic Man brings these conspiracy elements together, propelling Sam to continue his mission. Sam functions as a detective, tracking down clues to solve the mystery. The obsession of the protagonist deepens as Under The Silver Lake progresses. Viewers will wonder where exactly the film is going. The cast of characters are enigmatic, with unusual tics. Yet none feel out of place in this bizarre world Mitchell has created. The dialogue is great; Sam’s monologues are always interesting, and often amusing. 

There are various elements in the film that hark back to other filmmakers. A Hitchcockian influence pervades the film (with the initial voyeurism reminiscent of Rear Window). Influences from David Lynch and the Coen Brothers are also present. Under The Silver Lake is very much a Hollywood film, in more than just setting. The seediness of the backdrop is palpable. References to both films and the strangeness of the city are abundant. 

The discussion on mystery that takes place is the film in a nutshell. Mitchell focuses on pop culture, questioning its dispensability and its meaning. As the film progresses, the themes become more encompassing. Mitchell gives the audience plenty to ponder. 

Camerawork in the film is great. Mitchell mixes long shots with quick zooms. The rapid, fluid camerawork is offset by more laconic shots. Cinematographer Mike Gioulakis frames some very picturesque shots. Nighttime and day time have distinct feels, capturing the idea that the city comes alive at night. The animated sequence going inside the comic book is a great device. Feels natural, despite a sudden mix of live action into animation. 

The score at times echoes the great Bernard Herrmann. The traditional score is a good contrast with the contemporary diegetic music. Older songs and presence of other archaic aspects give the film a period feel, although this is not explicit. Andrew Garfield delivers a compelling performance as Sam. Often acting alone, Garfield is energetic and always convincing. Grace Van Patten and Jeremy Bobb are good in minor roles.

Engaging, ambitious, and mesmerising, Mitchell’s neo-noir mystery is one of the year’s best pictures.

Under The Silver Lake will be released in DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on 26th August 2019.

Film Review: The Artist

Films about cinema and the film industry rank among some of the best films ever made; one only needs to think about Sunset Boulevard or Singin’ in the Rain for example. The Artist continues in this vein of quality. Michel Hazanavicius’ film is spellbinding and an unadulterated joy.

In the Hollywood of 1927, actor George Valentin is a huge star of silent pictures. Bumping into a young hopeful on the red carpet, George helps give Peppy Miller her break into acting. While Peppy’s career is just beginning, George is concerned by the arrival of talking pictures…

The Artist features a wonderful combination of humour and drama, set against a backdrop of the Hollywood studio system. It is similar to Singin’ in the Rain in that it covers the transition from silent films to talkies. However, The Artist comes at the topic from a different vantage, being a silent film itself. The film is self-reflexive, playing a little game with audiences with its use of sound.

The Artist relies to a certain extent on the viewer’s awareness of Hollywood history. Humour is based around this, but also on the hammy performances that the film itself makes reference to. Archetype roles, such as the move executive, are a source of great amusement. Even in moments of heightened drama, The Artist will pull the rug from under and deliver a punch line.

The sets, costumes and props are excellent, helping to generate the sense of spectacle. Cinematography is at times sublime with some superb composition. The score is so important to the film’s success, and Ludovic Bource’s music works incredibly well. There is also an unexpected but marvellous use of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo score.

Performances are great, particularly from lead Jean Dujardin. The film also features one of the cutest and most talented dogs ever to appear on screen. Simply put, The Artist is majestic. A must-see film.

The Artist is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver is one of Martin Scorsese’s best films, featuring one of Robert De Niro’s finest performances and Paul Schrader’s excellent screenplay. Simply put, it is one of the greatest films in cinematic history.

Insomniac Travis Bickle drives a taxi in New York City at night. Gradually, Bickle’s instability is revealed as his disgust with the city grows, leading to him making some life-changing choices…

Taxi Driver is an affecting film because it works on numerous levels. It is both a study of violence and a violent film. Taxi Driver depicts Bickle’s disgust at the violence that surrounds him, yet later reveals his inclination to turn to this same method to make his stand. Whilst the climax of the film is famously desaturated to lessen to the effect of the gore, this does not detract overly from this incredibly violent scene. Although the graphic nature of the climax may be shocking to viewers, it is depicted as an act of heroism by the media in the film. Thus, Taxi Driver offers a view of violence in society but remains refreshingly ambiguous in passing judgement.

To describe Travis Bickle simply as an anti-hero does a disservice to the complexity of the character. Schrader has constructed such an intricate protagonist in Bickle. He elicits both sympathy and aversion from the audience. Bickle exhibits in awkwardness in social situations which is sometimes difficult to watch. At the same time, some of his actions appear antagonistic for both other characters in the film and the audience watching. Bickle describes himself as “God’s lonely man”; a very perceptive description of his isolation. This facet of his character is quite relatable, and stands in contrast to other aspects of his personality.

Robert De Niro gives an exceptional performance as Bickle. He truly inhabits the character, portraying his mental disturbance through more subtle tics as well as the troublesome nature of his narrations. Jodie Foster is convincing as young prostitute Iris; she is remarkably solid considering her young age. Cybill Shepherd’s Betsy is the other woman is Bickle’s life. There is quite a divergence between these two females; each of them fuelling his motivation in different ways.

Taxi Driver offers us the final score of legendary composer Bernard Herrmann. And what a score it is. Ranging from a laid-back sax solo to a thunderous rumble, Herrmann’s music is the perfect accompaniment to the visuals, setting the tone for the film.

As a tale of urban alienation, Taxi Driver remains unrivalled. Often movies are described as “must-see” films. In the case of this 1976 classic, that really is the most fitting label.

Taxi Driver was screened at Brewer Street Car Park by the Jameson Cult Film Club. It was introduced by Riz Ahmed.