Satire of the American News Network is hardly an original thematic concern. It can be found in a wide range of genres and formats, even in a passing gag, or as a more chief focus of the text in question. In regards to Nightcrawler, the directorial début of screenwriter Dan Gilroy, the satire at work involves the occupation and desire of the network news for images detailing violent acts of crime as they happen. In order to obtain these images, the networks rely on individuals known as ‘nightcrawlers’, who track down criminal activity in the hope of catching some grisly footage to sell to the highest bidding network. It makes for an interesting world to explore, and taking place in the night-scape of L.A., Nightcrawler stands as an incredibly interesting film, delving into a darkness which is shocking and utterly enthralling often both at once.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a ambitious young man, desperately seeking his true calling in life, by any means necessary. Seeing L.A. as a city of almost unlimited opportunity, Lou just happens to stumble across a career which may just be something he is good at. After unwittingly witnessing the aftermath of a car accident, Lou discovers the world of video journalism, entering a competitive world with only a small hand-held camera and a cheap police radio. Lou’s ruthless and persevering nature soon works to his benefit in an aggressively competitive industry, as he plunges to some dark depths in order achieve the best footage he possibly can, no matter who gets hurt in the process.
The character of Lou Bloom is one who shall become a cult figure in the same mould of the likes of Patrick Bateman; a man within the capitalist system who is quite accustomed to delving to dark depths to ensure his success. Gyllenhaal’s weight loss allows him to use the more extreme features of his face to pure psychotic advantage. The whites of his eyes glare out over the L.A. streets, searching for his latest opportunity or individual to exploit. He is an unnerving presence, brought to vivid life by the captivating Gyllenhaal. Leap-froging over his performance in Zodiac, Lou Bloom stands as his most dedicated performance. In a year which has also seen him dive into surrealist depths in Enemy, Gyllenhaal continues a streak of diverse roles that mark him as one of the more braver of the leading men in Hollywood.
Dan Gilroy, whose previous screen-writing credits include the disappointing Bourne Legacy and the inoffensive Real Steel, delivers a film of rare potency and the kind of entertainment that David Fincher so excelled in with Gone Girl last month. Using the L.A. cityscape to his full advantage, Gilroy constructs a dangerous atmosphere, in which any grotesque act could take place in the night, giving Lou another scenario in which to exploit. The city is a landscape in which Lou can indulge in his brand of cut-throat capitalism, the city willing him on to succeed it seems by offering him many an opportunity to capture its inhabitants at their most ugly. It is quite a cliché to say that a city acts a character, but Nightcrawler stands as a true example of such a statement.
There are elements of classic 70’s noir and 80’s crime movies within the DNA of Nightcrawler, mostly in regards to the aesthetic and its interest in Lou as a main subject, who Gilroy deems worthy to follow. The macabre media world that he engages with is shown to be as malicious and ethically blind as the opportunistic Lou, which is embodied by News Director Nina (Rene Russo). Both Lou and Nina are two sides of the same coin, helping each other achieve their own personal goals, yet at the same time both testing each other’s limits. Lou in particular, draws their relationship to testing levels and exhibits a control which marks him as a dangerous individual.
Nightcrawler is one of those surprising Autumn movies which seemingly comes out of nowhere to make a strong case for being one of the more impressive movies of the calender year. Prisoners (which incidentally also starred Gyllenhaal) was one such movie last year, the type that reminds you how potent and impressive Western-Indie cinema can be, allowing mainstream Hollywood actors to work on their craft in a much more innovative and challenging environment. While providing Gyllenhaal a career best performance, Nightcrawler is also yet another impressive directorial début, with Gilroy delivering enthralling scenes of tension in such a modest fashion; simply shoot well and let the action un-fold, allowing then tension to form quite naturally and unrelentingly. Some of the action in Nightcrawler stands as some of the more impressive action sequences of the year; expect Gilroy to be getting some calls from Hollywood in the very imminent future.
Gilroy’s first feature is sure to have a long life as a curious text in which to unfold and another testament to the fact that you don’t need to like your lead character in order to have an entertaining time with a film. It may not appear entriely fresh, but it is such an impeccably staged film, such a wonderfully performed piece, that Nightcrawler becomes a film which is almost impossible not to become wrapped up in the madness, despite what you may make of the actions. For yet another dive into a world of sinister happenings, Nightcrawler stands out as a trip into the underworld that it is well worth embarking upon.