With glamorous lifestyles, beautiful beaches, and the home of Hollywood itself, Los Angeles is the setting of some film’s all-time greats. From action greats like Die Hard and Speed to Hollywood love letters in the form of Singin’ in the Rain and The Artist, the LA landscape has been given the spotlight in ever-changing ways ever since becoming the backdrop for film noir.
For this marathon, we’ll be looking at a very particular facet of LA: its night-life. Which, of course, is full of terrible people doing terrible things. Because LA is a living dream by day and a cesspool by night. The following movies trawl the streets finding everything from neon clubs to murder and drugs. Let’s see how each one tours the city, and see if I can make it so you never trust a stranger trying to lend you a ride ever again.
Let’s start with Michael Mann’s Collateral, the second of his own LA two-punch, with Heat. While the latter is a brooding crime thriller that saw De Niro and Pacino finally meet, the former is a more intimate affair that offers almost the exact opposite. Cab driver Max (Jamie Foxx) is toyed with by hitman Vincent (Tom Cruise), who share the bulk of the movie together as Max unknowingly ferries Vincent from job to job. Often forgotten are surprising offerings from Mark Ruffalo, a detective trying to catch up with Vincent’s devastation, and a pre-No Country breakout Javier Bardem, the crime lord who hires Vincent. Everything is captured with typical Mann flair, though the true joy is Vincent’s calm control mixed with Max’s civilian panic. the further into the city the two go, the more things start spiralling out of control, as things oddly reflect the binary level of success one can obtain in LA. Vincent is the star, with (in a twisted sense) a glamours job and a wealth of success. Max is the nobody, shuffling while dreaming of something more and, when terrible circumstances thrust him into the limelight, he’s given a chance to shine by stopping the carnage Vincent brings to the streets.
Let’s flip the script on the LA civilian, from Jamie Foxx’s Max to Ryan Gosling’s unnamed driver in Nicolas Winding Refn’s gorgeously rendered Drive. The driver is, strangely, the ultimate nobody – capable and trustworthy but extremely isolated. He drives getaway cars, he performs stunts for Hollywood, he works in a garage. Cars are this man’s life, and there really is little else. Giant, sweeping shots of LA show his vehicle in a sea of others, but we know he’s far from ordinary. There are two perceptions of the driver in the course of the film. One is the ‘white knight’ who falls in love with a waitress (Carey Mulligan’s Irene) and wants to protect her and her son. The other is a psychopath willing to do whatever it takes to set things straight. These two men are only ever shown together in a breathtaking elevator scene that sees both the extreme passion and violence possible and we’re left to make what we want of him. By the film’s close, the city has chewed him up and spat him out, though we’re unsure if there’s anywhere else for him to run to.
Nightcrawler is, in many ways, an unsettling film. Pioneered by some of Jake Gyllenhaal’s best work, it turns a critical eye on the media landscape that Los Angeles epitomises, as well as the unfortunate job culture that many young people are thrust into. Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom can’t stop talking – or, rather, legitimising everything else he says and does. He is an always-on job interviewee, with answers that cover all possible bases and an irritating diplomacy only found in those that want, in no uncertain terms, for things to turn out their way. And for things to go Bloom’s way, more accident need to happen on the roads and in the homes of the public, and he needs to capture it all on film. Everything from LA is here, in one perverted way or another. Bloom’s video technology grows, though he’s capturing human tragedy to earn his keep. The camera-work of Hollywood is twisted into a peeping tom, seeking out wounds, bones and blood under the belief of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. Fame is there to be had, in the form of the welcoming smiles of morning news reporters who comfort their audience while showing images of brutality. And the brutality is everywhere. Highways and mountain trails. Neighbourhoods of both scarcity and affluence. No-one is safe, especially when Bloom takes it upon himself to start making the news just so he can get a good shot.
Blade Runner (1982)
Now, I don’t think it’s strange to admit that I’m one of those people that doesn’t need much of an excuse to talk about Blade Runner. Everyone, whether they agree with it or not, knows the legacy that it has left behind for the science fiction genre, but I promise not to gush too much. Fresh out of scaring the hell out of us with Alien, Ridley Scott brought his retro-fitted technological landscape back down to earth as Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) seeks out to retire a rogue batch of replicant androids. And thank goodness he did. So much of Blade Runner is focussed on discerning what is real. Replicants believe themselves to be human, until there are confronted by their terrifying limitations and seek to extend their lives. J. F. Sebastian (William Sanderson) creates life-like toys, animals are artificially created and seen as exotic commodities and advertisements dominate the streets and skyscrapers all around the city. Is there any way this story couldn’t be told in Los Angeles?
Collateral – 2 hours
Drive – 1 hour 40 mins
Nightcrawler – 1 hour 57 mins
Blade Runner – 1 hour 57 mins
Total – 7 hours 34 mins
With our marathon focus of Los Angeles after dark, there’s no way you’re starting this one with daylight outside. Prepare this one for a Winter month, ideally, or be prepared to take it in the early hours. Either way, you’re grabbing takeout. Because there’s no way you’re not watching psychopaths and hitmen drive around town without trusting someone to drive by to deliver your food. Just make sure to tip the guy. He does knows where you live.
Let me know if you try out What the Hell Am I Doing Driving in LA? in the comment section below!