It has taken me awhile to digest the greasy late night snack that is Nightcrawler. I didn’t think I’d have much to say considering the film is at its best when not a word is spoken. I’m talking about scenes where a nearly skeletal Jake Gyllenhaal is slinking through police tape and into crime scenes shooting footage of vicious acts all for his his distorted obsession. Nightcrawler is a razor sharp thriller from screenwriter/first time director Dan Gilroy, the brother of Tony “Michael Clayton” Gilroy who also penned all the Bourne films. Do these brothers have some sort of psychic bond when it comes to delivering blood pumping suspense? What are they drinking out there on the Gilroy family farm?
Nightcrawler concerns an intelligent if not disturbed two-bit thief named Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). Lou, although unhinged, is a young go-getter looking for a purpose in the shadows of Urban Los Angeles. Lou finds that purpose when he becomes enamored with nocturnal freelance video journalism. The job entails shooting crimes scenes with a camera and selling them to news stations. Lou’s a quick learner thanks to his web savvy and forms a business relationship with a news coordinator named Nina (Rene Russo). Good to see that Rocky and Bullwinkle didn’t destroy her career.
Lou works his way to the top of his field thanks to his risk-taking and help from a dedicated simpleton named Rick (Riz Ahmed). All of this as Lou blurs the lines between what’s acceptable, what’s exploitation, and what’s legal. The results are a never ending heart stopper that acts as your tour guide through a Los Angeles that’s so dark and seedy it would make Michael Mann pee his pants.
We’ve all had that feeling of being somewhere we’re not supposed to be. Or doing something that if anyone found out we’d be in big trouble. I can’t think of anything more frightening than that kind of paranoia and uncertainty clouding a situation. Nightcrawler is that feeling for almost two hours. Lou Bloom sneaks into houses, follows criminals, moves dead bodies for the perfect shot and we’re stuck there with him. It’s a nice change of pace to follow a thriller film that doesn’t revolve around some kind of killer. In many ways, Lou Bloom is scarier than any killer. Lou cares so little about the people around him that he’s willing to watch them die so that he can exploit it on TV. And what for? His 15 minutes of fame? The fact that Lou believes he’s doing good work makes the events take on an even more sinister shape.
Jake Gyllenhaal is pitch perfect as Lou Bloom, capturing both hints of innocence and sadism in his performance. The physical transition definitely adds to it but most of it comes from Gyllenhaal’s already trademark bug-eyed stare and long expressionless mouth. His delivery is quiet, yet precise and he almost always knows how to get the upper hand on the situation. I’m glad we have actors like this who are willing to take risks in smaller films. It doesn’t always work (cough, cough Enemy) but when it does it really changes the way you think about a performer.
Even after all these weeks I still don’t know what to say about Nightcrawler. It’s probably my favorite film of the year after Whiplash. Gyllenhaal is phenomenal, the pacing is phenomenal, the music terrible, but that’s okay. I’m not sure what took Dan Gilroy so long to step behind the camera, maybe he was just looking for that perfect shot.