Review: Gilroy Takes a ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ To Art Criticism

Velvet Buzzsaw one-sheet poster

Velvet Buzzsaw | Dan Gilroy | February 1, 2019

Dan Gilroy has had an interesting arc as a director, coming out of the gate strong with his directorial debut Nightcrawler in 2014, an unforgettable pairing with Jake Gyllenhaal that certainly raised expectations for his sophomore effort. However, the middling Roman J. Israel, Esq. was a big disappointment outside of Denzel Washington’s leading performance.

Velvet Buzzsaw still - Rene Russo and Jake Gyllenhaal

Still, we had high hopes for Gilroy’s latest film Velvet Buzzsaw, seeing as it reteams Gilroy and Gyllenhaal. Which makes us disappointed to say that the honeymoon phase with Gilroy is most certainly over.

Written by Gilroy, Velvet Buzzsaw is a satirical exploration of the pretentious art world of Miami Beach. We meet a blend of colorful and snobby characters that make up of the art social sphere and see they play one another with their own separate goals and agendas in mind.

Velvet Buzzsaw still - Toni Collette and Rene Russo

Influential art critic Morf Vandewalt (Jake Gyllenhaal), gallery owner Rhodora Haze (Rene Russo), her employee Josephina (Zawe Ashton), curator Gretchen (Toni Collette), and famed artist Piers (John Malkovich) are just some of the characters that make up this cutthroat art world, one where you can be cut down as quickly as the next questionable art piece can be declared the next big thing.

Things get weird when Josephina stumbles upon a treasure trove of art that her recently deceased neighbor left behind in his apartment. His dying wishes were for the art to be destroyed but she smells blood and after some pushing from Rhodora, they take it as an opportunity to help her rise in the ranks of the art world and profit off the dead man’s work. Soon enough, weird stuff starts happening and one by one the people of this world start paying the consequences, like an art school version of Final Destination.

Velvet Buzzsaw still - Zawe Ashton and Jake Gyllenhaal

Gilroy grinds his satirical ax with reckless abandon, and subtlety goes right out of the door. The film seems to be having fun with its integration of horror into this world, but it’s not something that I ever bought into. It’s not done well enough to work in a believable fashion and it doesn’t ever breach the line of being so overtly ridiculous and or clever where you feel like you’re in on the same wavelength of fun that the film seems to be having with these weak elements of horror.

Still, this is too talented a cast to waste and they do all shine in their respective roles the best that they can. Gyllenhaal offers another colorful and vibrant performance, and Russo, Malkovich (who was recently in Netflix’s Bird Box), and Collette all remind us why they’re such respected pros. There are also some good performances from Zawe Ashton, Tom Sturridge, Hamilton and Blindspotting‘s Daveed Diggs, Stranger Things‘ Natalie Dyer and Billy Magnussen (who stole Game Night as far as this writer is concerned).

Velvet Buzzsaw still - Daveed Diggs and John Malkovich

Despite the actors’ best efforts, Velvet Buzzsaw‘s satirical look at the art world falls flat and gets a bit lost in its web of horror elements, losing the poignancy of its satirical message along the way.

Rating: 5.3/10