Nightcrawler is a cynical and satirical look at the media. It takes place in L.A. but this isn’t the sunny City of Angels, it’s the dark, seedy, unethical side of it. Its hero runs a small successful business by exploiting, deceiving and manipulating everyone who gets in his way. It fully commits to delivering the media slogan of, “If it bleeds, it leads,” to horrifying heights, never feeling the need to let the audience off easy. Oh and it’s a comedy.
Tony Gilroy has been writing scripts since 1992 but mostly he’s been living in the shadow of his better known and Academy Award nominated brother Dan Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Legacy). Nightcrawler marks Tony Gilroy’s directorial debut, a sleek and thought provoking debut that uses the audience as a the film’s moral compass, instead of the film cheating and punishing its lead in the final few seconds, it gives you an ending that will make you recall the end of The Wolf of Wall Street.
In the City of Angels, there is a monster lurking in the darkness. Lou Bloom, skulks around the city at night, looking for scrap metal that he sells for a profit. While out at night he witnesses a fiery car crash. But instead of his focus being drawn to the victim or the police attempting to help, he is focused on the camera crew recording the whole thing. Here, he is introduced to the cut-throat world of L.A. crime journalism, and begins to delve deeper into the world of nightcrawling.
From the opening scene, we know that Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is a man who operates on the margin’s of the law. He’s trespassing and destroying property, then, he violently attacks a security guard and steals his watch. We don’t know anything else about him and we also don’t need any other information because that scene alone tells you all you need to know about Bloom. He’s a character who’s trying to find his place in the world and is willing to cross any boundary to find it. A character where this urge is overbearing and Jake Gyllenhaal is exceptionally sinister and neurotic in the role. I can’t recall a role that Gyllenhaal has played where I’ve hated his character as much as a I do here. His name will surely come up for Oscar contention, due to his performance here.
It’s easy to think of Travis Bickle, when looking at Lou Bloom. Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bickle didn’t serve as some kind of inspiration for Gilroy when he was creating Bloom. Both are outsiders, who also happen to be detached from reality. These men do not understand, nor, tend to follow normal social interactions. Regardless, Bloom is a fast learner and always seems to come with a well-rehearsed sales pitch. You wouldn’t expect someone with such poor social skills to have the ability to convince and persuade people the way Bloom does and yet he somehow can. It is this duality that makes Nightcrawler so disturbing. If Bloom wasn’t so concerned with achieving success, Nightcrawler could easily become a story about a serial killer.
Nightcrawler is a film that builds. There is never a moment that doesn’t feel like it’s building to its inevitable finale. You know that Bloom is eventually going to go too far, where even members of the audience who admire the character would and should be repulsed and scared of him. The final action sequence in Nightcrawler is an incredibly tense and well-crafted sequence. The film is incredibly restrained in terms of action until that point, so, that scene ends up feeling well earned and not out of place cause of the build up to it.
Furthermore, Nightcrawler is a thematic masterpiece. Sure, Network’s depiction of the media is better but Nightcrawler’s depiction of the manipulation of media to garner viewers can not be dismissed. Bloom isn’t the only one who is of low morals in this film. There is Rene Russo’s, Nina, as the news producer, desperate to get the big ratings and is willing to go as far as she can to keep her job. Sure, Bloom manipulates crime scenes to get the perfect shot, but Nina know this is all ethically wrong but is still willing to show all of it, as long as it is legally possible.
Nightcrawler is the Jake Gyllenhaal show and he delivers one of the most memorable and terrifying performances of 2014. You will simultaneously admire and be terrified of Lou Bloom. Tony Gilroy has crafted a dark tale, that is visually impressive and rivetingly paced. This is Gilroy’s first time behind the camera and he managed to deliver a story that is thematically perfect, even though a few story details could have used some work. For example, Riz Ahmed’s Rick isn’t even a character, to the point, where none of his scenes even matter or have any impact. Except for the end, where he serves as a plot point rather than giving his character any real closure. Rick is the just doing the comedic sidekick schtick and not even that well.
Nightcrawler is a twisted interpretation of the American dream. It is a film that is hell bent of delivering an unsettling truth that Bloom is part of a generation that feels entitled to everything that was promised to them by previous generations but ended up being sold short. Part Gothic fiction and part noir, Tony Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, offers a satirical look at the word of freelance media, although the film can be cynical to a fault.
Score: 4 out of 5