REVIEW: “Nightcrawler”

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“Nightcrawler” is the directorial debut for Dan Gilroy and I have to say it’s a very compelling one. But it’s not like Gilroy is a stranger to the business. He has a handful of co-writing credits on his resume. His brother Tony has been writing screenplays since 1992 and his directorial debut was the Oscar nominated “Michael Clayton”. Also Dan has been married to actress (and one of the stars of this film) Rene Russo for 22 years. So Dan Gilroy has been around the movie business for a while.

“Nightcrawler” is all his. In addition to directing the picture he also wrote the story which takes a look at the sleazy underbelly of freelance crime scene videographers. Jake Gyllenhaal stars in the film and he continues to impress me. It has taken me a while to come around to him as an actor, but a string of really strong performances has convinced me of his talents. “Nightcrawler” may give us the best Gyllenhaal performance to date.

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Gyllenhaal dropped thirty pounds for the part of the unassuming Lou Bloom, an out of work eccentric living in Los Angeles. The very first scene is telling and gives us a good introduction to this character. A security guard catches Lou stealing metal from a construction yard. Lou jumps him, steals his watch, and escapes. He sells the stolen metal to a scrap yard and asks for a job. The manager pointedly tells him “I’m not hiring a thief”. Within these first few minutes Gilroy gives us several nuggets of information about Lou to process.

After coming up on a car crash Lou is inspired by videographer (Bill Paxton) who shoots footage of accident and crime scenes and then sells it to the highest paying news outlet. Lou steals a bicycle and pawns it for a cheap camcorder and a police scanner. After some rough early experiences, Lou captures some footage of a carjacking. He approaches Nina Romina (Russo), the news director of a struggling morning show, and she eagerly buys the footage. She encourages Lou to bring anything newsworthy to her first.

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As Lou’s ‘business’ picks up he gets a new car, new equipment, and a new assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed). He also becomes egotistic, more ambitious, and addicted to his new-found success. He begins tampering with crime scenes in hopes of getting more dramatic footage and bigger paydays. But Lou ultimately lusts recognition. As the film progresses we see more unhinged and sociopathic behavior from him and we begin to wonder how far he will go down this dark and twisted path.

Gilroy gives us a veritable smorgasbord of dark humor, biting satire, and neo-noir perspectives. There are so many clever machinations that keep things fairly unpredictable and uncomfortable (and I mean that in a good way). Initially it is the subtlety of the evil that is unsettling. Sometimes it is camouflaged within Lou’s quirky and seemingly mild-mannered behavior. Later his actions cross a number of disturbing lines and we see in him a cold indifference to what he is doing.

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Gilroy develops such a dark and twisted tone in large part thanks to Robert Elswit’s atmospheric cinematography and the moody score from James Newton Howard. But the brightest spotlight shines on Gyllenhaal and his sensational performance. He is truly terrifying but in an unorthodox sense. It’s Gyllenhaal’s appearance, his expressions, his postures. But it’s also his inconspicuousness. His character is someone that could gel into society without anyone noticing his existence. Russo is also very good and she gives us an entirely different form of evil. Television ratings at all costs, morals and ethics out the window. But I do think her character is a tad too broad and at times absurdly unethical.

“Nightcrawler” has been getting a lot of praise and I can see why. It’s such a creepy, tense, and efficient crime/psychological thriller. I certainly don’t think it’s the modern day “Taxi Driver” as some critics are calling it and it doesn’t strike all of the chords it wants to. For example its sleepy little jabs at the all-American way and the entrepreneurial spirit come off as a tad weak. But it is definitely effective in far more areas than not and it doesn’t follow any routine conventional path. Add a phenomenal Jake Gyllenhaal performance to that and it’s easy to see why this film works so well.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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44 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Nightcrawler”

  1. I have a lot of respect for Jake G. He’s now in my mental box along with Christian Bale. Not sure why actors (Robert DeNiro, Bale, Hanks, McConaughey, Farrell, Damon, Fassbender–ooohh, a future post?) feel the need to drop excess weight to make a statement, but it works, doesn’t it?

  2. Great review of a movie I loved. One of those movies that remind you of De Niro’s best work in King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. btw, there is a small typo in your first sentence (debt instead of debut)

    • Thanks. I make a reference to the Taxi Driver comparison. I don’t quite see it as that strong. A couple of little issues didn’t work for me. But overall I was impressed and glued to the screen.

  3. Definitely one of the better films of the year. Great review!
    Gyllenhaal’s weight loss added that gaunt look to his face. Hell, you can see shadows made by his cheek bones.

    • Thanks a lot. I appreciate the comments.

      You’re so right. Thar weight loss really added to the character. He was creepy enough already but his appearance made him all the more unnerving. It was a very effective physical transformation.

  4. Fine review, Keith. One of my faves for the year. Lou Bloom the Travis Bickle antihero for our time. And Robert Elswitโ€™s atmospheric cinematography really showcased L.A. not seen of late.

    • Boy I feel so left out that I haven’t seen this yet. I almost saw this the night I ended up seeing Birdman in early Dec, as it was already yanked from my fave theater. I trust that it’s a good one indeed since both of you rate this so highly ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Hey great to hear from you. Hope you had a great holiday! Nightcrawler was quite good, right? It seems like a movie that sprang up out of no where. It was never on my radar. Definitely a really good surprise.

  5. One of my favourites of the year, and I agree it’s probably Gyllenhaal’s best role to date. I think I liked it a little more than you but glad you enjoyed it!

    • I definitely enjoyed it much more than I anticipated. My biggest gripe was with Russo’s character. It is a very good performance, but she is written to be so ridiculously immoral and unethical. It made the whole critique of sensationalized journalism feel really heavy-handed. But that and minor quibbles aside, this was a really enthralling film. Anxious to see it again.

      As always thanks for reading.

      • Interesting, that side of her character didn’t bother me too much although I did struggle to accept the plausibility of their non-work relationship. I just assumed some people working in TV really were that unethical! Been good reading all year, and all the best for 2015.

  6. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of my favorite actors; he did really well here and I hope he gets nominated for his performance. I remember the cinematography bring the other standout, though the criticism of the media was nothing new. Still, it’s a wonderful film.

    • Jake really opened my eyes to his talents. Over his last several films I’ve seen a side of him that I had apparently missed before. He definitely deserves a nomination for this performance. I really enjoyed what he did here.

      Thanks so much for reading and I appreciate the comments.

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  8. Nightcrawler is definitely a far cry from being Taxi Driver, I guess such comparisons should never be made. Nightcrawler is a decent film but only because of Jake Gyllenhaal. He continues to impress me too.

    • So you also found the Taxi Driver comparisons to be a bit much? I just cant put it on that level but I did enjoy it mainly because (as you mentioned) Gyllenhaal.

  9. I kinda felt the same way about Russo. Her character was a little over the place, and at times, too over-the-top for me. But I think Gyllenhaal deserves all the praise in the world for his performance in Nightcrawler. The film is good, and Gyllenhaal makes it great!

    • That’s very well put. Gyllenhaal truly carries this movie. I have really come around on him as an actor. He has made some great choices lately.

      • I think so too! I think he’s given more solid performances in the last five or so years than he has over the course of his career.

  10. Totally agree here, bro. I expected to love this due to the many 5 star reviews I was coming across. It wasn’t the modern Taxi Driver or classic that many portrayed it to be but it was still a very good thriller. Gyllenhaal deserves all the praise he’s been receiving but I was also highly impressed by Riz Ahmed as his partner. Very unsung work from that young man!

    • We are definitely on the same page. I’m seeing this movie pop up on a lot of top 10 lists. I really liked it but I couldn’t quite go that far with it. Russo’s character was a bit over-the-top and the heavy-handed satire with her was a bit much. But Gyllenhaal really has won me over.

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