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NIGHTCRAWLER – Review

October 31, 2014

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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They couldn’t have found a better release date than Halloween for Nightcrawler. It may not be a horror film in the traditional sense of the genre but there’s no denying this psychological thriller possesses a disturbing quality and a creepy tension that stem from the less flashy yet insidious horrors of real life.

The film’s title refers to the jargon used to describe freelance stringers who wander the city at night hunting for any accident, fire or crime they can capture on camera and sell to local TV news stations that are constantly hungry for the next sensationalistic piece to break ratings records with and are willing to pay well for it.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays the protagonist, Lou Bloom, an eager young man with not many professional qualifications but a solid work ethic and a striking ambition that’s hard to contain. His motto is: “If you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket.”

The real question with him though is, as we learn quite quickly: how far would you go in order to win that lottery? Hopefully most of us have moral boundaries. Lou, on the contrary, as you can easily imagine, would push himself to extreme lengths.

How extreme those lengths are is exactly what creates the driving tension at the heart of Nightcrawler and you’ll be biting your nails to find out the answer when the story reaches its goose-bumps inducing climax. To call Lou an anti-hero would be an understatement yet what makes him compelling to watch and deep down pushes us to root for him, at least up to a certain extent, has been poignantly summed up by writer/director Dan Gilroy.

He claims that he wanted to “instill the awful knowledge that the real horror isn’t Lou, it’s the world that created him and rewards him.” Already an established screenwriter (The Bourne Legacy) and brother of the talented Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton, The Bourne Series), Dan marks his directorial debut here and surely is a welcome addition to the family.

Lou Bloom is a symbol of the alienated youth dealing with internships and minimum wage rather than full-time work and careers. He’s a loner and a product of the Internet era. He spends all his time online absorbing information like a sponge and he aims to learn as much as he can in order to get ahead. And once again, in Dan Gilroy’s own words: “Lou is someone who doesn’t change and instead bends the world around him”; the filmmaker says “he saw it as a chance to create a character that holds a mirror up to society.

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The film is indeed a fascinating and deeply affecting character study that follows Lou Bloom in his frustrating search for work and charts his ascent in the realm of TV news. It would all play out like a classic American success story if it weren’t for the very dark twist behind this character’s complex psyche.

As Lou becomes aware of the career opportunities “nightcrawling” can lead to, he starts digging deep in the dark underbelly of Los Angeles’ night life. At first inevitably an amateur and crashed by the competition of professionals like Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), Lou surely doesn’t get discouraged, if anything he’s more stimulated to succeed.

When he meets Nina (Rene Russo), a middle-aged News shark who runs the show at a local TV station and he gets a taste of what it takes to make an impression, Lou realizes he needs to invest in a more professional equipment and an assistant if he wants to make the quality leap he needs in order to jump-start his career. So he recruits the street-smart Rick (Riz Ahmed) as his sidekick to help him route his way to crime scenes faster via interception of police radio and to have another pair of eyes ready to capture the action.

It doesn’t take too long for Lou to learn and grow in the business and soon he finds himself beating the competition, scoring story after story for Nina that get him more money and confidence. It is revolting to realize how local TV stations manipulate and package news in order to sell advertising and to keep up with their demands Lou sees fit to push the boundaries of legality and morality as the only way to make sure he doesn’t fall behind. Needless to say this approach leads him to a dark and questionable path.

I may be biased talking about Jake Gyllenhaal as I consider him one of the most gifted talents of his generation. He’s already proved himself before as the Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain can attest. And after that glorious year he’s confidently alternated mainstream titles like Source Code and Love & Other Drugs with more visceral roles in indies like End Of Watch, Enemy (out in the UK in January) and last year’s criminally overlooked Prisoners, showing a great range of versatility.

However, it’s this role that most definitely consecrates him as one of the most brilliant actors of our time and probably the most underrated and that’s not simply because of the sheer physical transformation he underwent, shedding 30 pounds, but most importantly for the deeply nuanced and subtle inner metamorphosis he accomplished to make Lou as vivid and authentic as he is.

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Nightcrawler seeps through your skin slowly but efficiently, building up an understated yet mounting tension bound to reach its catharsis in the shocking finale. Jake Gyllenhall is utterly mesmerizing with his subtly compelling and undoubtedly Oscar-worthy performance that doesn’t need over the top moments to convey the sociopathic nature of his character.

And that’s the strength of Gilroy’s confident and nuanced writing and directing. It’s a bleak and gritty descent in the dark mind of a lucid psychopath and a worrying reflection on the current state of media which feels like the perfect companion to Gone Girl in that respect and surely grabs you with a visual style worthy of the gritty underworlds of Fincher or Scorsese.

Nightcrawler
is out in UK cinemas on October 31st

Francesco Cerniglia – Film Editor