Nightcrawler doesn’t only find Jake Gyllenhaal in a career best state, but it also finds him in his first invisible role. Never before have I watched Jake Gyllenhaal, one of the best actors alive today, and saw a completely different person. He is his character in body and mind and his performance is one that is strong enough to anchor a film by itself. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to. He’s working with a terrific script, one that zips along quickly and provides his character with rapid fire dialogue, and an excellent first time director in Dan Gilroy. All that said, Nightcrawler is absolutely awesome.
Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a young and thrill-seeking individual who is desperate for a job. He finds one when he comes across the vivacious world of crime journalism. As he begins his time as a “nightcrawler” (one who moves through the city late at night filming breaking news stories for the sake of earning a buck at news outlets), he finds his calling. He’s good at his job. Then, he becomes really good at his job. And then he becomes too good. As Lou starts to earn his income by filming late night car crashes and murders, he realizes that sometimes, in order to get the perfect shot, you have to get involved with what you’re filming. I can say no more because to do so would be to ruin the experience.
It feels like its own thing, hell-bent on creeping us out with questionable actions by Lou and an eerie performance from Jake Gylenhaal, but it also has a way of feeling like a mixture of great and similar movies. Cinematographer Robert Elswit (Michael Clayton, The Town, There Will Be Blood (as well as other Paul Thomas Anderson films), along with first time director Dan Gilroy (co-writer for the unmade Tim Burton film Superman Lives), does a terrific job handling the setting of downtown L.A. Much like Collateral and Drive, the streetlights in Nightcrawler shimmer with a pulse, almost becoming characters themselves.
It doesn’t stop there. The camerawork is fresh and the lighting is gorgeous, but where the film really excels is in the storytelling and acting. Lou Bloom isn’t one of the most effectual antagonistic characters in recent memory because of the script alone, but it’s also because of the lead performance as well. This is acting at its finest. An actor submersed in his craft. Gyllenhaal is absent and Bloom is present. He is maniacal and cruel, yet funny and (somehow) likeable. Apart from losing twenty pounds for the role (and it really shows), every action and word that flows from Gyllenhaal’s person is perfect. He slithers through the streets of L.A. like a sleek snake and every word that protrudes from his mouth is spoken so quickly yet fluently. Here is an actor that has worked with great directors in the past such as Ang Lee in Brokeback Mountain, David Fincher in Zodiac, and Duncan Jones in Source Code. Prisoners is the film that made Denis Villeneuve a hot name, and now Enemy has suggested that Gyllenhaal may be a go-to actor for the Canadian director. All of those films featured Jake Gyllenhaal giving excellent work, and this one is no different (but it isn’t like you expected it to be.) Critics are calling this his best work yet, and I can agree. Never before has he been more evidently committed to a performance, and it should do well to earn him an Oscar nomination.
Throughout the course of Nightcrawler we meet characters that are far less interesting than Lou, yet essential to the unfolding of his tale. After discovering his knack for filming local news stories past the midnight hour, Lou hires Nick (Riz Ahmed, Closed Circuit), a down-on-his-luck youth desperate to make even the slightest amount of cash. I really enjoyed the interview scene between Lou and Nick (mostly because of Gyllenhaal’s outlandish performance), but I admit to not feeling the need for his character to exist other than for the sake of being a character that can yell “You’re insane” to Lou instead of allowing the audience to figure that out. That being said, as the film progressed, it started to make more sense and by the ending of the film it all worked out for the best. Again, no chance of spoilers. Bill Paxton shows up as a rival nightcrawler, something I’m sure his character is now regretting. Bill Paxton is Bill Paxton, and it’s pretty awesome to say the least. Another character is that of Nina (Rene Russo, she played Mel Gibson’s wife in the excellent 90s movie Ransom), a morning news director who is the sole receiver of the footage captured by Lou. As the footage gets sketchier and the stakes get larger, tension rises between the two and her character, while less interesting than Lou, becomes fascinating to watch under the influence of the new crazed journalist. Russo gives a great performance, at times confronting the madness that is Lou Bloom with hostility.
This script is electric, as well. It isn’t flawless, but there is barely any breathing room. Once it starts, it doesn’t let go. Dan Gilroy finely fluctuates between thrilling, scary, and funny in a way that is immensely admirable. The scenes are well put together, going from light to dim to dark to black, and the black comes in the final act, which is some of the most thrilling cinema I’ve seen this year. It starts with Lou and Nick staking out outside of a restaurant and turns into a magnificently filmed car chase sequence that rivals the ones in Drive. The movie is quite spellbinding. I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen for the entire running time, but it was only in the final act when I realized it had me physically shaking. It’s a gripping ending that is tightly written and tensely filmed.
In addition to the great technical aspects of the film itself, Nightcrawler also has a slick way of crawling under our skin as viewers of the news. If you watch the news on any basis whatsoever and you watch this film, you will find that most of the news coverage portrayed on television looks about how it does in our actual world. That’s because it is how it is in our actual world, which means that in some ways Nightcrawler may not be too far off in its presentation of how news outlets receive footage. In a way, it’s like Gone Girl; a kind of parody that is anything but a comedy. It’s funny, yes, but underneath it’s all quite disturbing. This is a wild movie. Up front, it’s a thriller with a crazy lead character and crowd-pleasing moments of intensity, and underneath, it has something to say. Those are the best kinds of movies.
Nightcrawler (2014) 117 mins Rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo Written and Directed by Dan Gilroy
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