Dan Gilroy, who wrote films such as The Fall, Real Steel and The Bourne Legacy, also writes, and makes his directorial debut with Nightcrawler. Not unlike Whiplash and Gone Girl, which I reviewed recently on this site, this was one of those films I was very eager to see in 2014, but didn’t have the chance to watch until recently.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners) plays Louis Bloom, a driven, though obviously odd young man, who is trying to find his calling in life. He steals and sells his illegally obtained items to whomever will take them. One night, Louis stumbles upon a scene of an accident with police and paramedics on site, and a guy stood beside the situation, filming it on a video camera. Louis asks about what the guy is doing there, and finds himself introduced to the world of crime journalism. Set in the night hours of Los Angeles, California, Bloom decides to pawn more stolen items for a police scanner and a cheap camera and attempt to film some crime scenes. It isn’t long before Louis impresses a local television news station with his up-close and graphic shots of the crime scenes he has managed to get to. We see Bloom become obsessed with his work as he hired an assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) and they attempt to arrive at crime scenes before the other crime jornalists in the area. Making enemies, as well as friends in the right places, Louis takes things to the extreme as he makes money for his freelance work. With Renee Russo as Nina, the head of the local news station, eager to see his startling and eye-catching work air on her show, we see Louis’s relationships grow and deteriorate with the various people he meets. A fact paced thriller that ups the tension as we follow the lead character who is definitely not a protagonist, Nightcrawler is dark, gritty, fact-paced and cut-throat in the best ways.
I had been somewhat of a fan of Gyllenhaal since seeing him in Donnie Darko, but have grown to like his work much more since his work in films like End of Watch and Prisoners, and this, Nightcrawler. I found the tone of the film, dark, brooding, with small shards of pitch black humour mixed in with the disturbing story of a man set on reaching his goals, regardless of what negative things that causes on his journey, to be addictive to watch. Gyllenhaal and Russo, who I haven’t seen in quite a while, are excellent here. Louis Bloom is a character with a quiet sinister warning behind his eyes that makes us believe he is capable of very dark things, and some of those things we question are often brought into the story. Russo’s Nina is a desperate woman who wants to turn heads and keep her job safe, and will do it by any means necessary, even if those means involve the borderline criminally obtained crime footage brought to her by this strange guy with slicked back hair and a cheap old camera in his hand.
The morbid feel of the film and the lack of characters to really “get behind” may inhibit some people’s enjoyment here, sure, and I have heard some people mention that the cold way that death is dealt with by the lead character is a bit too disturbing. It is disturbing, the way Louis Bloom looks at these scenes of accidents, killings and such, as a chance to gain a pay-off and praise for his work, without empathy or any sympathetic feeling for the victims, is worrying and almost representative of the era we live in, where money and sensationalism seems to take precedence over a caring word or a helping hand. Delving deeper, it can be said that Nightcrawler also looks at society’s obsession with reality news, with statistics and negative stories, and death, and, in the words of Nina herself in the film, “urban violence making its way into suburbia”. It offers a different view of a tale that often has a “good guy” to make an argument. Here, it merely shows desperation and vehement passion for reaching a selfish place, and in doing so it feels fresh, uncomfortable and gripping.
With a top notch cast who throw themselves into their roles fully and brilliant direction and writing from Gilroy, this is a film that looks like it has been plucked from the past in many ways, yet still looks beautiful. It has a retrospective feel at times, while feeling innovative and modern at others. The cinematography from Robert Elswit use the shadowy streets and the dark surrounding skies to mask the grit and filth of the streets we find ourselves on, like voyeurs, as the story goes on. His work feels borderline Noir with clear and crisp imagery that looks gorgeous in one moment, and then punches at us with images of gore, of pain and of neglect, the next. It is this contrast that allows for such effective moments to occur.
I was fully immersed in this story, in the characters that inhabited it, and in the way it was told. Gyllenhaal proved himself, once more, to be one of the best working actors in modern-day Hollywood, and someone who becomes his character, allowing us to look past his real face. Don’t overlook this film, it is a thriller with a difference, it is grimy and unsettling and brutal and chaotic, yet sturdy and thoughtful. Darkly comic psycho-thriller, to some, a journey through the eyes and mind of an intelligent and invested sociopath, to others. This is can’t-miss cinema.