Many 'hidden heroes' in film are writers. Writers, in my opinion, are the most important cog in the film-making machine. Without a story, you have nothing. At the end of the day, everything comes down to the script. If the script isn't good, the film won't be good. It's just a shame that Hollywood doesn't see it like that.
He broke into the industry with the very impressive Gattaca, which he wrote and directed. Gattaca, in my humble opinion, is at the pinnacle of the motion picture art form. All aspects of the production serve the story spectacularly. The retro-style art direction, script, acting, music, and lighting all brought to life, much too chillingly, a cold and soulless world where the content of your genes counted for everything while the content of your character counted for nothing. It's unbelievable, then, that a film with such a destined character and personality like Gattaca didn't win a single Oscar and Niccol wasn't even nominated.
Next, Niccol wrote The Truman Show, which, bafflingly, is even better than Gattaca. The sign of a good script is the density of it. The Truman Show is a satire on the intrusiveness and obsession with celebrity of the modern media; added relevance was given by the fact that it came out shortly after the death of Princess Diana. There is, however, more to it than that. Much has been made of the film as religious allegory; it has been pointed out that Christof whose name is clearly, and quite deliberately, similar to "Christ", is a God-figure, whereas Truman (the "True Man") is a symbolic Everyman. It has even been claimed that the film is an anti-religious allegory, with Truman's final escape from Seahaven symbolic of man's need to break away fromoutdated religious dogmas. You could delve deeper, but you'd need a good two years to do so, the script is fantastic. The Truman Show is a brilliant, multi-layered film, part comedy, part satire, part philosophical speculation, and in my view one of the best films ever made. Yet, Niccol still didn't win an Oscar or even a Golden Globe.
Politics was next to be ravaged by Niccol, when he made Lord of War. Niccol keeps ratcheting up his incisive view of the world, surgically cutting away our illusions, and his scalpel cuts deeper as his talents mature. On his journey from Gattaca to Lord of War, Niccol has maintained his connection to individual people too often sacrificed at the altar of profit and exploitation. He has a profound ability to reveal the conscience and humanity of man subverted and supplanted by the coldness of commerce. More and more civilization, less and less civility. Barbarism dressing in Armani, the Wolf in Grandma's nightgown waiting patiently to devour us with the gusto of a gourmand. The quality of Niccol's work is impressive, but it's his consistency that is even more impressive.
This is a filmmaker with a headful of thoughts and qualms about topics many successful artists skirt. He is fascinated by people's fascination with celebrity. He talks a lot about the strange relationship between Hollywood and entertainment news that, it seems to him, are locked tighter than ever in an embrace.
I regard Niccol as one of the brightest sparks in the film industry. He is arguably the most interesting screenwriter of our generation; he's full to the brim with satire and nine times out of ten, he crafts them majestically. It's just a shame he's not regarded as highly by everyone else as he is by me.