2014, R, 117 mins.
2014, R, 117 mins.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou / Rene Russo as Nina / Riz Ahmed as Rick / Bill Paxton as Joe
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy
Dan Gilroy’s NIGHTCRAWLER is like a nightmarish cocktail of the most alarming elements of TAXI DRIVER and NETWORK further crossed with the cold and unnerving aesthetic of a Michael Mann.
like Martin Scorsese’s lauded 1976 film, NIGHTCRAWLER is an unflinching
and unnerving portrait of a methodical minded sociopath that finds a sick
purpose in life while exploring the seedy underbelly of society.
Like Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film, NIGHTCRAWLER exposes the darker
underbelly of the news media’s mantra of “If it bleeds, it leads”
that drives its sense of purpose beyond more noble-minded endeavors of
covering important and relevant news items.
Deep down, through, Gilroy’s film is about perversion and
malevolence, when it boils right down to it.
It’s a frighteningly effective film that shockingly echoes our
– making a swift and confident directorial debut here – has previously
carved out a fairly stellar career as a Hollywood screenwriter (he most
famously penned the Jason Bourne films), and in NIGHTCRAWLER he shows an
uncommon command over story, characters, and atmosphere.
His film is so deeply intimate in how it provides a close-up view
of its maniacal lead character in an almost casual, nonchalant manner.
The movie is not really interested in psychology or thoroughly analyzing
the motives of its deranged persona as much as it is just being a
fly-on-the-wall observer of how a societal fringe figure and loner
manipulates everyone around him in his pursuit of self-actualization and
success. Yet, since this
character is tied directly to the world of freelance crime journalism, his
deplorable and twisted behavior ties in with the equally appalling manner
that the tabloid news has become a daily bloodsport as to which
show can put up the highest body count on screen.
There are no real heroes in this film…only victims.
also further establishes star Jake Gyllenhaal as perhaps one of the finest
actors working today with the shrewdest taste in film roles (his recent
resume, including films like ENEMY, PRISONERS,
BROTHERS, and SOURCE
CODE, is proof positive of this).
The always-resourceful 33-year-old performer plays Los Angelino
Louis Bloom, a petty thief that makes a living stealing whatever he
can…or screwing over anyone he can.
When his life of nocturnal crime fails to provide for him, he
becomes entranced with the world of video journalism, especially one night
when he watches Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, so good in these small, but
crucial supporting roles) film a bloody accident, who reveals himself at
the scene of a crime to be a freelance videographer that sells his
gore-filled highlight reels to the highest media bidder every night.
This intrigues Louis so much that he decides – with what little
money he has – to invest in a cheap camcorder and radio scanner to
peruse his new occupational goals.
Louis’ early attempts at filming crimes across L.A. are not so much
failures as they are mediocre in his handling of them.
Yet, little by little, Louis does manage to capture some
exclusive footage that he is able to sell to Nina Romina (a never been
better Rene Russo), who’s a news director for one of the lowest rated
stations in the city. Desperate
for anything that will save her job and show’s future, Nina buys Louis'
footage and forms a semi-professional working relationship with him.
Louis has grander ambitions beyond just selling small-time videos
for low payouts; he wants “big game” scores to net more money and more
power over his competition. With more capital coming in, Louis buys a fast sports car
tricked out with GPS technology and surveillance gear, as well as hiring
an assistant (Riz Ahmed) to help him during his nightly conquests. Yet, as Louis’ unbridled thirst to usurp Joe as the go-to
“nightcrawler” in L.A. becomes unquenchable, he begins to take bigger
risks in shooting his footage, which ultimately leads to him breaking the
law himself and endanger the lives of innocent people around him.
Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE, L.A. becomes
an ominous background creature of visual fascination in NIGHTCRAWLER, and
one that seems to feed off of and support the baser instincts of those
that reside there. With
virtuoso cinematographer by Robert Elswit, Gilroy paints a portrait of the
city that’s ripe with all sorts of seedy activity and unspeakable social
horrors at every turn. The
geography of the film is also splendidly varied, as Gilroy gives us an
insular look into the chaotic newsrooms populated by desperate producers
and directors looking to hit ratings gold while simultaneously showing the
L.A. exteriors in all of its neon-noir splendor.
Gilroy, as a film craftsman, knows that the city itself needs to be
front and center as a character in NIGHTCRAWLER.
has given so many memorable performances, but none perhaps as creepy and
sinister as what he achieves here. Looking
unhealthily emaciated and chillingly beady eyed throughout (he lost 30
pounds to shrink his chiseled frame down to look the part of a man being
eaten away by his evil motives), Gyllenhaal’s Louis is one of the most
dislikeable characters to emerge from mainstream film in quite some time.
He has no real redeeming qualities, outside of his fearless
business drive to achieve what he perceives as success, which is arguably
not a commendable trait itself when one consider what Louis does to get to
the top. Yet, despite being a
toxic force of indecency, Louis is so soft spoken in his sometimes-verbose
declarations that he falsely comes off as civilized and well mannered,
which ultimately makes him all the more terrifying as a social predator.
Akin to what Robert De Niro did with Travis Bickle decades ago,
Gyllenhaal "becomes" an unforgettably disturbing loose cannon that resorts to
shocking means to appease his needs.
He will surely net his second Oscar nomination for his work here.
Russo’s Nina seems like an odd fit as a pseudo-love interest/business
partner for Gyllenhaal’s Louis, but I loved the atypical casting
approach here (she’s 28 years Gyllenhaal’s senior), which elevates
scenes of their characters butting heads and tirelessly negotiating into
mini-ballets of low key and understated eroticism.
Nina also represents another unwholesome layer in the
film. She’s not perversely
evil like Louis, to be sure, but she so stridently yearns for unsavory
video footage to net her show viewership (“Think of our newscast as a
screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”) that she
lets her journalistic integrity get buried deep under her unethical
pursuit of ratings. In a way,
Louis and Nina are more compatible as lovers than either character
probably lets on in the film, and Gilroy is calculating for never really
spelling out to viewers the true romantic undercurrent of their business
union; he’s brave enough to respect the collective intelligence of
audience members to connect the dots and make their own inferences.
By the time NIGHTCRAWLER careens towards its jaw-droppingly scandalous and bleak final act you can sense Gilroy fastidiously pulling the strings of his pressure cooker of a narrative and main character, showing macabre compulsion and revelry in all of his unspeakably dangerous behavior. The writer/director shows an unwavering skill for marrying Louis’ homicidal tendencies with the larger theme of how broadcasters salivate for the type of unpleasant material that he peddles to them. There’s a nihilistic sheen that’s painted over the film through and through in its depiction of societal madness on many fronts. NIGHTCRAWLER may leave many viewers exiting the cinema – myself included – feeling dirty and requiring a post-screening emotional cleanse, buy there’s no denying that it’s one of the most assured and intoxicating debut efforts by a first-time director that I’ve seen in some time.
Gilroy’s film will get under your skin and stay there, whether you want it to or not.