Dan Gilroy Paints a Messy Canvas with ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’

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Published February 6, 2019
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Haze, played by Rene Russo, and Morf, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, examine art pieces of the late Dease. Photo courtesy of Netflix

Jake Gyllenhaal’s second collaboration with the writer and director of the critically acclaimed film “Nightcrawler” proves to be a poor attempt at a comedy-horror satire.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” marks Dan Gilroy’s third attempt as a writer-director, following “Nightcrawler” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” When I heard that Gilroy would be making a Netflix movie with Gyllenhaal, I was instantly fascinated. When I saw the trailer for the movie, my excitement grew even more. Unfortunately, the film did not live up to my high expectations.

The first few minutes of the film are actually quite interesting. Gilroy exposes the audience to the mostly overlooked world of the art industry. We are introduced to a variety of critical and pretentious artists and gallery owners, including Josephina played by Zawe Ashton, her boss Haze played by Rene Russo, and Morf Vandewalt, a very particular art critic played by Gyllenhaal.

Josephina, after suffering a difficult breakup that makes the film feel like a melodramatic television show, discovers her neighbor’s dead body. She then finds the departed’s hidden collection of paintings that were in the process of being burned. The painter, Vetril Dease, died before he was able to destroy the art.

Josephina and Haze profit off of the man’s paintings, which mesmerize anyone who lays eyes on them. Morf and other side characters, including Jon Dondon played by Tom Sturridge and Gretchen played by Toni Collette, soon get in on the action, revealing how vicious the art business is as everyone in the industry fights for a piece of the new “Dease.”

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Toni Collette gives a wonderful performance as Gretchen in “Velvet Buzzsaw.” Photo courtesy of Netflix

Gilroy wanted to explore a subject that is usually neglected in film, something that he did successfully in “Nightcrawler.” Unfortunately, “Velvet Buzzsaw” comes across as too over-the-top and convoluted, especially when the horror aspect is shoehorned in.

The film suddenly shifts from a weak satirical look at the art industry to a sort of B-grade horror movie as the stolen art begins to come alive and murder people. Although some were creative, the deaths in this movie were way too predictable and the film would cut away before anyone actually died, feeling like the first five minutes of a “Supernatural” episode. If you’re unfamiliar with that reference, just imagine moments where a character would be attacked by the art, the camera would cut away and someone else would later find the dead body.

There were choices in this film from the score to the editing that made it feel like a TV movie or a long episode. I understand that “Velvet Buzzsaw” was released on Netflix, but films such as “Mudbound” and “Roma” prove that low-budget movies on streaming services can actually be well made.

This movie wasn’t a total miss, however. There were still strong performances from Gyllenhaal, Collette and Russo and creating a film about the mostly uncharted territory of the art world was riveting and bold.

“Velvet Buzzsaw” seems to be a film with deeper meanings and metaphors that can only be understood if Gilroy told the audience, “This is what I meant by this decision.” If a movie has hidden messages the filmmaker wants the viewer to discover, then the film should first be well-made.

Gilroy tries too hard to blend satire and horror into one film, resulting in a movie with poor interpretations of both genres. Although the exploration of the art industry is interesting at times, “Velvet Buzzsaw” is a disappointment of a film, especially when compared to “Nightcrawler.”

 

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