– Summary –
Director : Dan Gilroy
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed, Ann Cusack, Kevin Rahm, Kathleen York, Eric Lange, Jonny Coyne, Michael Papajohn.
Approx Running Time : 117 Minutes
Synopsis: When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.
What we think : My early contender for film of the 2014, Nightcrawler is hypnotic in execution, and deafening in social, ethical and moral decay. Jake Gyllenhall is again brilliant, surrounded by a great (but small) cast who highlight one of the more unseemly, less-advertised career opportunities in the City Of Angels. If you don’t have this on your radar to see, you really should.
The city shines brightest at night.
I admit it: I think I’m getting a bit of a man-crush on Jake Gyllenhaal. The last decade has brought us some terrific roles for this incredibly gifted actor (okay, so The Day After Tomorrow wasn’t much chop): films like Zodiac, The Prince Of Persia, Duncan Jones’ Source Code, David Ayer’s End Of Watch (a film I cannot recommend highly enough!), and a duo of Denis Villeneuve films, Prisoners and Enemy, have given him not only blockbuster success, but a darker, more morally grey series of roles that I think test him more than the tentpole franchises. Enemy, a film I didn’t especially enjoy due more to Villeneuve’s directorial choices than Gyllenhaal’s performance, allowed the actor to inhabit a really dark, melancholy, almost nihilistic role that gave us a glimpse into just how brave a screen performer he truly is. Most A-list actors would baulk at the kind of shades-of-grey roles Gyllenhaal takes on; I think the quality of an actor is the type of roles they choose, and if that’s the case, my man Jake is one hell of a good actor. Nightcrawler is yet another turn at a dark, unlovable, questionably motivated individual: the dark, seedy underbelly of LA’s crime reporting industry comes in for focus here, in Dan Gilroy’s feature directorial debut (Dan is the brother of The Bourne Legacy director Tony). Is Nightcrawler another Prisoners, or is it an Enemy; is it a film you need to see, or is it one best left alone, in the dark, crawling off into ignominy?
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a social outcast. He cruises the streets of LA at night, committing petty theft to make a buck, hoping to gain acceptance into society through achieving honest employment. One evening, after witnessing a car crash on the freeway, and seeing the response of local “nightcrawlers”, men who listen to police scanners and capture dramatic video footage of emergencies and other crimes in order to profit from selling the footage to news services, Lou decides to have a go at it himself. With a video camera, and a bit of luck, he manages to scoop another nightcrawler at the scene of a fatal carjacking, capturing graphic footage of the victim in his last moments. Lou takes this footage to Channel 6, whose news director, Nina (Rene Russo) buys the footage to insert into their morning broadcast. Realizing the potential for making money, Lou focuses all his attention on nightcrawling; he hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), as a navigator, and manages to gain an enemy in fellow nightcrawler, Joe (Bill Paxton). One evening, Lou and Rick beat the police to the scene of a triple homicide, the footage of which has Lou engaging in some very shady practices to make his money. The resulting personal chaos has Lou hunting down the killers, in order to capture more footage to drive up his bargaining price.
Nightcrawler might just be one of the most intense, visceral films of 2014. It’s a brutal film in many respects, not always physically but certainly emotionally. Jake Gyllenhaal is pure dynamite here, as the calm, collected, utterly entrancing Lou, a guy who seems almost psychopathic in his dedication to whatever cause he focuses on. Lou is a complex character, exploring complex moral and ethical grounds here – the nightcrawlers do whatever they can to get “the” shot, and rather than being involved in the story, they merely film it. At no point in Nightcrawler do either Lou, Rick or Joe ever render assistance to those who need it, with Lou even moving a body to actively make his footage more graphic and more brutal. The gore factor is low but effective when required, a persistent element of the nature of the job rather than a crude, shock-value film technique on the part of Dan Gilroy, who directs this film like he’s been making them for years. He hasn’t: Nightcrawler is his debut feature as director. Gilroy isn’t unfamiliar with film sets, though, having written a number of screenplays with his director brother Tony; he’s apparently picked up on the idea that minimalism can often be more powerful an aesthetic than “balls-n-all”, which is what many directors ascribe to.
Nightcrawler’s dark, oppressive setting is the seething, almost rank underbelly of LA’s nightlife, made all the more prescient by the actions of the nightcrawlers, who are – let’s face it – reprehensible people at the best of times. Filming the misery and anguish of people’s lives (and deaths) seems like a job for bottom-feeders, which is what Joe Loder is, although he sees it more as business, an ethically empty motivation for doing what he does. Lou, meanwhile, appears to find some kind of solace, perhaps even meaning in the job, although as his passion for more grisly scores, more “lead story” footage overtakes him, the line between business and obsession begin to blur. The insatiable appetite of the news corporations is the gaping maw at which Lou stands, throwing his work into in order to gain either notoriety or – in this case – financial gain. Lou isn’t a nice person; in fact, he’s a total asshole, but he’s written and performed in such a way that you want him to succeed in spite of the horrible things he does. This dynamic is one of the best things to come from this film – you’re rooting for the bad guy.
If the film could be categorized into a “genre”, it’s a crime thriller. Siding more with thriller than anything. Gyllenhaal’s Joe doesn’t technically do anything wrong, other than make a buck, but it’s what he doesn’t do that makes him such a bad guy. His relationship with Rene Russo’s Nina, a desperate, perhaps unfulfilled news producer working the graveyard shift, is symbiotic in many ways. He needs her to air his stuff, she needs him to provide stuff to air; when Lou requests a more physical interaction and is roundly rebuffed, albeit without much conviction, the film takes on a more menacing tone. Which is probably the best description of Nightcrawler overall: menacing. The film lurks in the mind, grips your fingernails ready to extract them, readies the thumbscrews to exact agony as you witness Lou’s tragic, soul crushing journey as it rises, rises, rises – will Lou be held to account for his actions?
Jake Gyllenhall is magnetic here. This is an Oscar-caliber performance, and I truly hope he is nominated for his work. Lou Bloom is a wholly unsympathetic character, in terms of his behavior and outward abrasiveness, yet Gyllenhaal somehow makes us like him, even if he’s a dick. Restrained, calm and calculating, Gyllenhaal seems to channel a mixture of Norman Bates and Commander Data from Star Trek, the implacably resolute, steadfast focus on the mission at hand. It’s a mesmerizing performance, and without him, Nightcrawler wouldn’t be half as good. Rene Russo holds her end up as Nina, and it’s great to see her in a role with this much moral grey area. Her scenes with Gyllenhaal are fraught with unresolved tension, a fact Lou exploits as he barters for better deals. His final upbraiding of Nina as she attempts to shortchange him with footage from the homicide is particularly magnificent, perhaps one of the best written pieces of dialogue of the year, and my pick for best scene in a movie of 2014. Bill Paxton’s role of Joe is small, but effective, channeling his character from True Lies again as he tries to lure Lou into the fold. Riz Ahmi, as Rick, is a nice contrast to Lou’s insatiable malevolence; Rick is nervous, itchy for money (he’s poor), and desperate to succeed, even if his life ambitions don’t always parallel Lou’s.
Nightcrawler is a terrific, terrific film. Doubling my adjectives means this is a really good film. Led by a superb Gyllenhaal, directed with ferocity and tenacity by Dan Gilroy, and co-starring the grime and icky lost humanity of LA’s nightlife, Nightcrawler’s pulsating, nail-tearing story and evocative themes will resonate with you long after the credits roll. So far, my pick for best film of 2014.