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Nightcrawler – film review

December 5, 2014


Unflinching satire turns a voyeuristic lens on the glorification of success obsession.

Reviewed on Tuesday 2nd December 2014

Nightcrawler 2014

Written & directed by Dan Gilroy. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton. Running time: 117 mins.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an aimless loner living in LA who is unable to connect empathetically with others who, after a chance encounter with a freelance cameraman and ambulance-chaser Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), decides he has found his one true calling in life and a profession he is perfectly attuned to do. Things soon get out of hand however when Lou’s unbridled enthusiasm gets the better of him and he goes far beyond just being a passive observer and recorder of late night crime and car wrecks; becoming a fully-fledged instigator and manipulator of events.

Gyllenhaal is quickly establishing himself as one of the most versatile and gifted actors of his generation and his performance in Nightcrawler is a testament to this. With him being in virtually every scene; this is very much a first-person perspective movie; perhaps the most challenging for any actor; as it is their performance alone which ultimately carries the entire film. But Gyllenhaal so effortlessly inhabits this character; with his gaunt appearance, wide-eyed stare and goofy enthusiasm; that     it is easy to believe we are watching a real person. And it says something of his beguilling performance that we are so easily able to find such a reprehensible character oddly compelling; and dare I say it; disturbingly endearing even – so much so in fact that we are more than willing to go along for the ride (as morally bankrupt     as it gets).

Comparisons have been drawn elsewhere between Gyllenhaal’s character and the character Christian Bale plays in American Psycho. Lou in Nightcrawler, however, isn’t so much as maliciously evil (as Patrick Bateman is) – as he is almost blissfully unaware of how his actions affect others. Which isn’t to say his actions could be in any way condoned – or he’d be someone you’d want to hang out with; just that he isn’t necessarily motivated by the compulsion to harm others. Other comparisons people have drawn are the Travis Bickle character in Taxi Driver, and Daniel Day Lewis’ character in There Will Be Blood, although there’s no sign of Bickle’s pent-up rage in Lou’s character or the narcissistic self-obsession of Day Lewis in P.T. Anderson’s film. Having said that, there’s no denying Gyllenhaal’s character is somewhere along the scale of this particular psychological spectrum.

Every self-respecting sociopath requires a whipping boy; someone to lord it over and control. And here that role falls to Lou’s camera assistant and general lackey Rick (Riz Ahmed) a down-trodden homeless guy Lou pulls off the streets and constantly berates and exploits and belittles with his superior knowledge of business acumen. Having dealt with my own fair share of sociopaths over the years; these scenes between the two have an unsettling ring of truth about them which is quite unnerving. Indeed Rick could be seen as the most sympathetic character in the entire movie – which has much to do with Ahmed’s perfectly-pitched performance. Likewise, in a role specifically written for her by her director husband; Rene Russo also shines here as Nina Romina; news director for LA’s lowest-rating local TV news service, who is one ratings loss away from losing her job, and who happily turns a blind eye to Lou’s increasingly diabolical transgressions in order to save her own professional skin. Russo has been relatively underutilized of late and it would be fantastic to see her offered more meaty roles in the future as a result of this.

Much has been made of the film as media satire; particularly in the way it brings to light the role of TV news and current affairs; with its escalating preoccupation with upping the fear factor (Nina is quite prepared to manufacture the threat of urban     crime spreading into the suburbs – when no such thing is happening). But, more importantly, Nightcrawler also shines a light on society’s unhealthy encouragement of the success-obsessed sociopath (the glorification of which last year’s Wolf of Wall Street was charged with in certain quarters). Nightcrawler, however, can never be accused of the same thing – as we are never in any doubt that Lou Bloom’s behavior is ruining lives and ultimately reprehensible and nothing to aspire to.

On a directorial level, Gilroy has crafted a perfectly-realized and assured piece of work and never once do we get a sense it is his first time out of the gate. Indeed, based on this piece alone, I would even go so far as to already place him in the same league as David Fincher. From the film’s opening moments, I was also reminded of David Cronenberg’s Crash – particularly in the way James Newton Howard’s score (very reminiscent of Howard Shore’s score for the Cronenberg film) lulls us into accepting this nocturnal urban underbelly as being somewhat, if disturbingly, alluring and sexy. Likewise, Robert Elswit’s reflection-filled lensing (again, reminiscent of Peter Suschitzky’s gorgeous work on Crash) perfectly captures the noirish ambience of a sleeping city during the wee hours.

Nightcrawler is a hugely entertaining, thought-provoking and involving thriller; featuring an incredible central performance and is an impressive first feature from an emerging filmmaker who is definitely one to watch.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, December 2nd 2014.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

From → film reviews

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