Velvet Buzzsaw

500 Days Of Film Reviews Velvet Buzzsaw Starring Jake Gyllenhaal And Rene Russo

When ambitious art dealer, Josephina (Zawe Ashton), stumbles upon a trove of undiscovered paintings created by her recently deceased neighbor, Dease, who has no legal heirs, she claims his work for herself. 


To introduce Dease to the art world, she partners with ruthless gallery owner, Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo). Capitalising on the dead man’s work becomes their mutual obsession, but as art critic Morf  Vanderwalt (Jake Gyllenhaal) investigates Dease’s past, he unearths uncomfortable truths.


Is It Any Good?

The post-Nightcrawler reunion of director Dan Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo was more than enough to set my anticipation level for Velvet Buzzsaw on high… and then the trailer dropped. 


Gilroy’s film looked gorgeous, it looked fun, it looked dark and twisty and, well, it looked utterly bonkers. I was in… oh yes, I was all in. My excitement only intensified when early reviews described Velvet Buzzsaw as Ruben Östlund’s The Square meets the Final Destination franchise.


It was, perhaps, foolish to allow myself to build such high expectations. Velvet Buzzsaw is a good looking film and an entertaining and interesting take on art and criticism. It features a number of brilliant performances - the aforementioned Gyllenhaal and Russo particularly. However, Gilroy’s movie is seriously lacking in thrills and, crucially, scares.  



The problem with Velvet Buzzsaw is that, unlike Nightcrawler, it does not build enough tension to make you truly engage with the predicament of its group of (rather deliciously unlikeable) characters. 


I did not care about the fate of anyone involved in the misguided sale of Dease’s paintings and found the violence too stylish and way too safe. Velvet Buzzsaw has neither the satirical smarts and raw sense of danger of The Square nor the heartstopping shocks of Final Destination. 


That is not to suggest that the film is entirely without merit. I thoroughly enjoyed another (in an increasingly long line) of Jake Gyllenhaal’s wide eyed, emotional unravellings and thought Renee Russo gave a standout performance (I would love to see her in far more movies).


There is certainly fun to be had - I only wish this buzzsaw had more bite.


Random Observations

The idea for the film came to Gilroy after visiting the Dia contemporary-art gallery in Beacon, New York two years ago. “It was the Tuesday after Christmas, at about 5pm, and no one was there,” the director recalls. “I was wandering around this huge, empty warehouse with all this rather disturbing contemporary art. And I wound up in the basement in a video installation with, like, dentist chairs and rats running around. And I just thought, ‘Man, this would be a great place for a horror movie.’” 


By the time he got home, Gilroy had hatched a rough plot. “The idea that artists invest their souls in their work and it’s more than a commodity - that has always interested me. I suddenly saw a way of incorporating it all, to explore how, when art and commerce are dangerously out of balance, bad things can happen. It clicked very quickly.”


Have you seen Velvet Buzzsaw? If you have, what did you think of this film? Let me know in the comments section below or over on Twitter. You can find me @500DaysOfFilm.

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones



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