Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton
Director: Dan Gilroy
Running Time: 113 mins
Velvet Buzzsaw is an American film about an influential art critic, a gallery owner and an ambitious assistant who find themselves captivated by the works of a recently deceased artist, but soon find their fascinations met with horrifying consequences.
Much like director Dan Gilroy’s debut feature, Nightcrawler, Velvet Buzzsaw is a bold, ambitious and undeniably slick film. However, this time round, it doesn’t quite pay off in such satisfying fashion, as Velvet Buzzsaw continues to push the boundaries of reality as it unfolds, but in the process unfortunately getting a little too ahead of itself, and losing sight of what helps it to at least start off as an intriguing and entertaining look into the world of high art.
Let’s start on the bright side, with the film’s opening act, which is by far the strongest part, simply because it is all a little more grounded, yet still has a small flavour of Gilroy’s appetite for chaos. You’ve seen the premise before, a critique of the pretentions of high art and everybody involved, with an opening act that’s reminiscent of the likes of The Square and The Devil Wears Prada, but Velvet Buzzsaw gets off to a great start with a rather cheeky and devilish sense of humour.
So, rather than being a heavy-handed attack on how pretentious all this ridiculous art is, the film plays the game and engrosses you in the world, something that comes through brilliantly with its slick production values and elegant cinematography, immersing you in the wealth and extravagance that comes as part and parcel of high society, something that Gilroy is clearly skilled at following the equally sleek nature of Nightcrawler.
Mix that in with that cheeky sense of humour that injects a great energy and unpredictability into the mix early on, and you’ve got a film that’s a rather entertaining watch, with the enjoyable vista into the world of high art working in tandem with a bubbling uncertainty and subtle sense of chaos that grows and grows as the story goes on.
With all that said, however, Velvet Buzzsaw then takes a turn which is really difficult to go with for the rest of the movie. I’m all for a bold, unique and exciting take on any genre, and I’m certain that the film’s first act couldn’t have extended all the way across a two hour film, but I felt that the direction that the film does take is both too abrupt and simply ridiculous to really keep me captivated, as things descend into a movie that’s ever more unrecognisable from the slick production that was the opening act.
While the latter stages of the film do hark back to the pretentions of the art world, occasionally featuring some striking moments that brilliantly poke fun at the real world, everything becomes a little too muddled as we find ourselves in a mix of crime, mystery, thriller, horror, fantasy, and comedy all in one. It’s an ambitious approach to bring together so much under one roof, but I’m afraid to say that Velvet Buzzsaw just falls flat in the end.
Furthermore, the story itself becomes a little too one-note towards the finish. Despite having so many genres and ideas flying around – with side plots and characters galore (arguably a few too many in all honesty) – the main focus of the film gets a little dull and a little too ridiculous to really grab you, with a predictable main arc that effectively reduces the main excitement to a couple of tense horror sequences in the final act.
It’s a film that reminds me a lot of Maps To The Stars, another film that takes a satirical aim at high society – in this case actors in Hollywood. Starting off in intriguing fashion, Maps To The Stars takes a ridiculous turn to rather aggressive violence and mean-spirited drama, and although its turn is far more unbearable than what we see in Velvet Buzzsaw, it eventually reduces the film to a little bit of a caricature, rather than the genuinely interesting and enjoyable film that we saw at the beginning.
Overall, I was a little disappointed with Velvet Buzzsaw. Despite being another slick and bold work from director Dan Gilroy, it’s a film that loses itself in a ridiculous twist of events, turning into a frustrating caricature that doesn’t feature the depth and entertainment factor of an impressive opening act, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.9.