‘Art is dangerous,’ at least to this author, remains one of the most frustratingly adapted, frequently used turns of phrase in an industry that as Velvet Buzzsaw entreaties can become obsessed with itself.
Artists are not dangerous either, unless they are holding weapons.
Simultaneously parodying creatives at their most preoccupied and the notion of art itself as a function transformative in one extreme sense, when overlooked industry stalwart Josephina (Zawe Ashton) happens upon a trove of irresistible, immediately valuable art with no claimant, things go from bad to worse when those obsessed who come in contact with the pieces start meeting grizzly ends.
Featuring no end of pointedly drawn characters expounding on the virtues or pitfalls of some work or other, among them Rene Russo as Rhodora Haze in a strong turn and John Malkovich who unevenly disappears for stretches of the film, Tom Sturridge as Jon Dondon emerges a highlight in what is the most grounded and here piercing satire of a successful art mogul.
Jake Gyllenhaal fares similarly as art critic Morf Vandewalt (a name, not unlike the others, that should tell you all you need to know about his character), clearly relishing a role ripe for comedy and sardonic musings. The performer is reliably excellent and the best scene in the film, too the last time we are treated to Vandewalt, belongs to him.
Reteaming with Nightcrawler Writer/Director Dan Gilroy, here, unlike in most of Gyllenhaal’s films, the actor’s physicality, only one of his draws as a performer which he typically adopts to great effect in the likes of Southpaw or indeed Nightcrawler, features laxly. Attempts to marry or promote Gyllenhaal’s physical presence within the dynamic of a scene fall flat as the direction and screenplay’s emphasis settle almost entirely on the dialogue rather than any movement within a sequence, relying to no small degree on how well two performers can verbally spar than be framed in successive encounters.
Velvet Buzzsaw appears most obsessed with parroting a narrow riposte to the industry, encapsulated pointedly and obviously by Daveed Diggs’ fleeting character. With the passing horror elements falling heavily flat amidst the wholly divergent, darkly comic stylings that are this film’s centrepiece, the screenplay does itself even fewer favours with the depiction of Coco (Stranger Things’ Natalia Dyer), a character bounced between segments of this world and absent any characterisation that doesn’t serve to immediately advance the plot.
The most and only memorable sequences in this film are centred on different characters being dispatched in manners reflective of, let’s say different creative output; with a few colourful and seldomly abstract moments wryly alleviating Velvet Buzzsaw but still falling short of any saving grace.
Velvet Buzzsaw is now streaming on Netflix