Nightcrawler Review

Posted: November 4, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

nightcrawler-posterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

Jake Gyllenhaal’s star has risen pretty steadily over the years. His big breakthrough came in with 2001’s cult hit Donnie Darko. Since then, Gyllanhaal has consistently been solid in serious dramas like Brokeback Mountain and more Hollywood roles like Love and Other Drugs. Recently, he seems to have turned his attentions to smaller, more offbeat projects. I haven’t loved all of these films, but he’s been picking films which are at least interesting if nothing else. It is with that in mind that I had great interest in Nightcrawler. It may be the work of a first time filmmaker, but Gyllenhaal had enough faith in the project to co-produce it himself, and the trailers made it look like quite the performance.

Here, Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, an ambitious young man trying to find a career for himself. Bloom is a hard worker, but he’s also a kleptomaniac and it’s made clear early on that the man is mentally disturbed. Because of this, he has a hard time holding a steady job. One night, Louis stumbles across a car accident and notices the cameramen rushing to the scene, grabbing some footage, and riding off for another job. Inspired, Bloom buys his own camera and a police scanner with the intentions of finding accidents or the results of violent crimes, capturing them on video, and selling them to News stations. After a few trial runs, Louis attracts the attention of a news director named Nina (Rene Russo) and begins supplying her station with footage focusing on graphic imagery as he attempts to rise to prominence in the video journalism field.

I can’t think of many films, or really any media at all, that depict the work of the cameramen who film the results of accidents and violent crimes. These “nightcrawlers”, as they’re referred to in the film, have seldom been depicted in media and the film gets a lot of mileage out of the novelty. It’s interesting to see how these professionals work and it does say something about the cultural obsession with violence, which is probably the film’s most prominent themes. What it has to say isn’t exactly earth-shattering and I do think its messages would have been stronger had the main character not clearly been a psychopath, but it’s an effective exploration all the same.

I mentioned earlier that Gyllenhaal is also a producer on Nightcrawler and it’s easy to tell why. This is a film dominated by the central character. Louis Bloom is in just about every scene and he’s always the one in control of the screen. Gyllenhaal really excels in his role here. He brings the character’s instability and creepiness to the screen well, but he also exudes drive, ambition, and intelligence, which makes him all the more dangerous. Gyllenhaal has a sort of unconventional way of delivering dialogue and even the way he carries himself is unsettling. Typically, Gyllenhaal’s roles have leaned towards the more subdued so I wasn’t sure what it would be like to see him in a more overt performance. He does a great job however and creates one of the most memorable characters of the year. He’s supported by Rene Russo, who gives a very strong turn as a woman who at first seems to be in total control but is gradually revealed to not be, and Bill Paxton in a small but fitting role.

The film is the freshman effort of writer/director Dan Gilroy, who shows promise as a filmmaker. Gilroy surrounds himself with professionals and the results are quite good. Robert Elswit is the film’s cinematographer and the two capture the L.A. night life pretty well. There’s some really effective use of artificial light sources like police sirens and street lights, and the camera movements are really fluid. I was less fond of James Newton Howard’s score, which at times felt a little inappropriate. Gilroy also hits a few false notes here and there as one or two scenes feel a bit off. He does however make up for this with a lot of very good scenes, including some surprisingly well-done set-pieces. I’m curious to see what Gilroy does from here.

So overall, what can I say about Nightcrawler? The film didn’t exactly rock my world as it has a handful of missteps and isn’t quite as smart as it thinks it is. Still, I did really enjoy watching it. There are a number of very strong scenes, some neat set-pieces, solid craftsmanship, and a top-notch performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. I do think the critical praise is, to some extent, a result of the fact that this is from a first time filmmaker and thus is something of a surprise. Still, while Nightcrawler doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it is a very entertaining and offbeat film that I imagine would work for most people.

A-

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