Watch: What If Lou Bloom of ‘Nightcrawler’ Is Travis Bickle’s Lost Son?

Watch: What If Lou Bloom of ‘Nightcrawler’ Is Travis Bickle’s Lost Son?

Dan Gilroy’s ‘Nightcrawler’ is fascinating for a number of reasons: its cinematography, its exploration of a large city’s night-world, the transformative performance of Jake Gyllenhaal, its eccentric and at times overly specific script. But it is also interesting for its seeming revision of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Taxi Driver,’ another film which, by showing us a man, driving, at night, managed to suggest how far loneliness might push an individual. Is it so eccentric, given everything, to suggest, as Jorge Luengo does in this chilling piece, that Lou Bloom could be Travis Bickle’s progeny, the product of some anonymous tryst? The two men have a great deal in common: creepiness, an excess of aggression, solitude… Why couldn’t Bickle have passed on his genes to Bloom?

Watch: The Gangster Face in 50 Movies: A Compilation

Watch: The Gangster Face in 50 Movies: A Compilation

What is it about the gangster face? Not so long ago, we ran an excellent video essay by Nelson Carvajal that celebrated the brash, tough, hypnotic, quintessentially macho quality of "gangster culture" in film. Now, Jorge Luengo has posted a piece digging into similar territory but with a narrower focus: the face. The alternately calm and monstrous face of Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone in The Untouchables. Or his affable but menacing face as James Conway in Goodfellas. Or… the grizzled visage of Jack Nicholson as Frank Costello in The Departed. Or the near-theatrically sad, almost noble face of Marlon Brando’s Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather. Or Al Pacino’s twitching, ever-animate countenance as Tony Montana in Scarface. Or, reaching back a little, Warren Beatty’s handsome Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde. Or James Cagney’s craggy Rocky Sullivan in Angels with Dirty Faces. Strung together with the ubiquitous "Little Green Bag" song from Reservoir Dogs, this piece truly makes one reflect on the face of the gangster, in every sense of that phrase. So what is it, I ask again, that’s so fascinating here? Is it the fact that we can’t be entirely certain what lies beneath that face? Or is it that the gangster isn’t sure either?

VIDEO ESSAY: Who Should Win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor

VIDEO ESSAY: Who Should Win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor

Part of "Who Should Win," a series of video essays co-presented by Indiewire Press Play and Fandor.

This year’s Best Supporting Actor nominees are all previous Oscar winners, which eliminates some of the career achievement concerns that can affect these awards. Let’s hope that puts more emphasis on the quality of the performances, which are all worthy of consideration.

As a wisecracking, world-weary Hollywood producer, Alan Arkin gives a light-hearted lift to Argo’s political thriller proceedings. In Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones plays the salty senator Thaddeus Stevens. Jones’ performance lives in his eyes. It shows the mental activity of an old man challenged to rethink his politics in order to achieve his lifelong dream of abolishing slavery. Jones is currently the narrow favorite to win the Oscar, but I think there are three performances better than his.

In Django Unchained, Christoph Waltz is a ruthless bounty hunter whose conscience awakens when he helps a freed slave on his quest. Waltz is a master of playing surface-level civility. But in this film, he peels away those layers ever so gradually to reveal his moral outrage seething underneath.

Robert De Niro gives his best performance in years in The Silver Linings Playbook. He plays a football-fixated father, whose attempts to help his son are undermined by his own manic temperament. It’s a display of late-career virtuosity, showing the emotional range he’s mastered over a lifetime: from explosive menace to wisecracking warmth. In this film, he adds an extra dimension through a sense of advanced age and frailty, which he uses to disarming pathos in this scene. But as it turns out, this emotional display is a put-on, as he just wants to loop his son into a crazy scheme. De Niro’s character is an inspired creation of demented obsession, charged with startling vitality.

But I have to give the top prize to Philip Seymour Hoffman for his work as the self-help guru Lancaster Dodd in The Master. It surprises me to say this because I’m not even sure if it’s a complete performance—by the end, his character seems to disappear into the movie’s unresolved clouds of ambiguity. But for the first 90 minutes of The Master, Hoffman is key to making this film work. He’s a pillar of authoritative self-control, a counterbalance to Joaquin Phoenix’s utterly unhinged lead performance.

But Hoffman is doing more than just playing the straight man. There’s an unforgettable scene where Hoffman’s Dodd first processes Phoenix. From Dodd’s face and his line of questioning, we see a refined man fascinated by a wild beast of a human, but we catch a glimpse of that same wildness lurking in him as well. That wildness explodes in a later scene when Hoffman is ambushed, and his lack of self-mastery is exposed. In just these two scenes, Hoffman is able to chart out the entire three-dimensional psychic landscape of a character. It’s this richness that keeps us watching even as the film takes us to increasingly difficult territory.

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of IndieWire’s PressPlay Video Blog, Video Essayist for Fandor’s Keyframe, and a contributor to Roger Ebert.com. Follow him on Twitter.

CANNES 2012: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (RESTORED)

CANNES 2012: ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (RESTORED)

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If nothing else, the new 4K restoration of the late Once Upon a Time in America proves the necessity of film preservation. This essential new cut of Sergio Leone’s last film was re-assembled from newly rediscovered footage long thought lost. At last night’s packed screening, actor James Woods insisted that Leone “died of a broken heart” because he could never release the cut of the film he really wanted to. So the mandate to restore the film was clear, once the footage was recovered and cleaned up by a number of people, including Gucci, the Leone estate, and the Film Foundation. And while though Leone couldn’t supervise the restoration of his last masterpiece, the new footage that debuted yesterday is every bit as essential as one could hope.

Rest assured, the new scenes, including a new final confrontation between Max (Woods) and the head of the union, are definitely not extraneous. Some new scenes serve as crucial juxtapositions against relatively canonical ones, like a previously missing sequence after Noodles (Robert De Niro, also in attendance last night) drives his gang’s car off of a short pier and (more on this in a moment).  Others remind us of characters’ limited agency and inability to totally remake/self-fashion themselves, as when Noodles talks to a chauffeur who disapproves of the fact that he’s both Jewish and a gangster (“Everyone knows what you are.”). When viewed holistically, the new cut is revelatory. Its restoration has only served to make this masterpiece that much more fulfilling.

I've singled out the new brief scene after Noodles drives the car into the water because, while it seems fairly negligible, it's surprisingly rich when placed alongside other scenes. In this new sequence, all the gang members resurface except Noodles. This understandably makes Max nervous. He panics and thrashes around trying to find his friend but is overshadowed by a nearby crane that’s busily and indiscriminately picking up garbage from the bottom of the sea floor.

This short sequence creates a parallel with Max's garbage compactor suicide as well as mirroring an earlier scene where the group, as adolescents, scheme to recover submerged contraband with sacks of salt. So in an instant's time, this newly restored scene further establishes Noodles' fatalistic identification with Maxie as his twin. The post-crash footage also sets up a troubling intermediary image to connect the relatively innocent past with a forbidding future. And this is probably the least impressive of the recovered scenes!

Sequences like the one where Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern, who was also at last night’s screening) performs Cleopatra's death scene in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra or Noodles talks to the caretaker of the gangsters' tomb confirm Leone’s status as a master choreographer. The film’s vision of life is all the more complex for these bridging scenes, because they call attention to Noodles’s inability to reconcile his past with his oppressive present. It’s as if key missing pieces of a never-completed jigsaw puzzle have finally been put into place. Every piece is important, even the smaller ones.

Simon Abrams is a New York-based freelance arts critic. His film reviews and features have been featured in The Village Voice, Time Out New York, Slant Magazine, The L Magazine, The New York Press and Time Out Chicago. He currently writes TV criticism for The Onion AV Club and is a contributing writer at the Comics Journal. His writings on film are collected at the blog, Extended Cut.