Written and Directed by Dan Gilroy.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed.
A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.
“If you want to win the lottery, you have to earn the money to buy a ticket”: one of the first things our anti-hero Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) says to his latest potential employer as he tries to talk his way into a job on a construction site. Bloom, a nocturnal LA resident, is unrelenting in his pursuit of the American Dream, his American Dream as he strives to be noticed by anyone who will have him, so that he may create his own dream, however nightmarish it may be. Welcome to the underworld of crime journalism.
Soon enough, he finds an outlet for his desperation along a Los Angeles freeway, namely a car accident that is seized upon my local news cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). Sensing an opportunity to muscle his way into the game, Lou sets off into the night looking for stories, and soon finds himself immersed in the nighttime excesses of crime journalism.
As an actor, Gyllenhaal has never truly been “flavour of the month”, for many his mere presence was a sure sign of disregard. But since 2011’s brilliant Source Code, the Californian actor has been nothing but revelatory, with the last year in particular producing the actor’s two best performances. Enemy (out in the UK in January after a long delay) was a staggering film with Gyllenhaal outstanding, but here we are talking career best, and redefining role.
With protruding cheekbones, emaciated torso and a wide-eyed stare that will send shivers down the spine, Gyllenhaal’s Bloom is a whirlwind of can-do attitude cranked up to 11, unruly and stubborn in his quest for success as he scours the nightly LA landscape to unleash his compulsive need to flourish. As he does, he becomes more self-assured but also more psychotic, spouting more crazed but strangely tangible sermons about life than David Brent, although strangely just as funny in a twisted way. An astounding performance from an actor who in some strange alternate universe is still churning out flaccid, empty blockbusters with Michael Bay. Thankfully, this version oozes class, and you just cannot wait to see where he goes next.
Behind the camera is Dan Gilroy, making his feature debut although you’d never think it to see the astonishing work his does here. A mesmeric and thrilling look into the dark indulgences we as humans have to always seek out the darkness in everyday life, Gilroy’s script is both perverse and comedic as it delves into the dark morals of present day news. In an age where our 24-hour news channels pummel the senses with everything the murky parts of our DNA craves, whether it’s a car crash, a robbery or a family slaughtered in cold blood (the final act story here), we just cannot look away, and become obsessed over such darkness. Bloom’s new boss Nina (a brilliant Rene Russo) is the antithesis of power in 21st century news warfare: fear and ratings rule, so leave your morals at the door. Bloom, just eager to please and raise his profile, is happy to oblige, as his own morals are as pitch black as the Los Angeles night sky.
Alongside Gilroy is cinematographer Robert Elswit, undoubtedly one of the best DoP’s working today, continuing to expand his impressive resume with some staggering work. He has been influential in many films over recent years, with his work ranging from There Will Be Blood and Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but Nightcrawler may well be his most remarkable. There will be the obvious comparisons to Michael Mann here (in particular the visuals of Collateral) but Elswit’s work here is undeniably unique. Cloaked in pitch-black darkness while the shimmering, purring neon excesses of the city light up the screen with the potential for opportunity and promise, Los Angeles has never looked better, and when the action cranks up in the final third, Elswit’s camera follows it at pace, as we race towards the ominous but utterly tense finale.
While enough can not be in the positive column for the film, this might not be everyone’s cup of tea mind; its dark, fierce undertones perhaps somewhat unappealing or upsetting, but such is the film’s power that it urges you to stick with it because the rewards are immense. At turns gritty, murky and blackly funny, Nightcrawler is undoubtedly one of best films of 2014 with one of the year’s most fascinating performances. Superb.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
You can listen to the Flickering Myth Podcast review of Nightcrawler using the player below: