REVIEW: Nightcrawler (2014)

R.G. catches up with Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy and nail-bitingly intense star vehicle.

No, this film is not a standalone outing for the very popular X-Men character of the same name. The title refers to a type of freelance journalism where you track down any crimes or incidents, shoot the footage, and sell the latter to any news stations for negotiable cash. The “crawler” part of the term is the right description for the “protagonist,” Lou Bloom, as he is armed with a camera and ready to crawl into a crime scene or accident to get the best shot he can. Nightcrawler is the creepiest, most unnerving film I have seen all year; a tour-de-force character study of a man with a psychopathic level of determination and obsession.

The story follows Louis “Lou” Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a scrawny-looking and lonely thief who is looking for a job. When he encounters a film crew led by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) race to a scene of a car accident, he becomes instantly enamoured by the profession and soon gets himself a camera and a police scanner, hiring a poor young man named Rick (Riz Ahmed) to be his assistant. He begins a business partnership with Nina (Rene Russo), a director of a struggling news station as he racks up more footage. As he gets better and better at the job, he also becomes more obsessed and goes over the ethical boundaries of journalism, altering crime scenes and sabotaging competition just so he can get the most riveting shot for bigger cash.

This is probably the second film of this year that looks at the shadier side of the media, the first one being David Fincher’s Gone Girl. Unlike the aforementioned movie, however, it doesn’t delve into how it affects civilians but instead goes into how it works from the inside. It is shown as a highly competitive, morally ambiguous field where the best news is first come, first serve, and the purpose is mostly for self-interest rather than a hub of information. This really serves well into the study of Gyllenhaal’s character as he makes it his drive and takes as much advantage of it as he can. While he is portrayed as unlikeable and his disregard for morals is a bit infuriating, it is nerve-racking and quite infectious how brave and determined he is. Even when there is little to no pause – much like the lead’s over-driven personality – the flick is surprisingly well-paced.

Director Dan Gilroy makes sure that the film does not let up in intensity as he manages to build the accomplishments of the “hero” scene-by-scene in a seamless fashion, as Lou’s objectives become bigger and more daring. The best thing in the entire film is Gyllenhaal’s outstanding, Oscar-worthy performance as Bloom. There is a reason why I put quotations on the word protagonist in the first paragraph because Lou is not even close to that. He pretty much embodies what a sociopath is: cruel, selfish, conniving, and immoral. Gyllenhaal ups the diversity and complexity to the character by making him educated, polite, charismatic and reasonable, but in the most uncomfortable way possible. It’s almost unbelievable how the other characters are charmed by his politeness and you feel sorry for them when they have to deal with his darker side. The character is so creepy and unsettling that he is almost in the same vain as iconic horror stars like Michael Meyers or Freddy Kruger. While Nightcrawler‘s supporters like Ahmed and Russo sometimes feel like manipulation fodder for Gyllenhaal instead of individual characters, they were strong and interesting enough to back up his overwhelming presence.

Along with Gyllenhaal carrying its dark tone, the way Gilroy shot Los Angeles at night gave it a neo-noir atmosphere similar to Drive, as proven by the straight, brightly-lit roads and numerous neon signs as Lou drives at high speed with his expensive muscle car. The movie also boasts an incredible vehicular sequence with camera work reminiscent of those police chases you see in real-life footage. Speaking of its cinematography, it employs a brilliant mixture of Fincher-precision framing and guerrilla-style hand-held that makes the experience more personal and up-close, particularly when Lou shoots a scene. It really does feel like we are the ones filming.

Overall, this is an extremely well-crafted thriller with enough darkness and intrigue to leave you on the edge of your seat. Gyllenhaal’s performance and Gilroy’s adept direction are the main attractions of the film, showing a fascinating look into a driven yet mentally unstable person climbing to the top of the ladder with little to no care for the consequences. You can’t do anything but watch him do unspeakable things and get away with it. Nightcrawler being released on Halloween was the rightest of calls because it is definitely a dark, ominous and eerie experience that leaves you with the good kind of bad taste in your mouth. It won’t be easily rinsed away anytime soon.

R.G. Villanueva

Contributing game and film writer for SquabbleBox. Occasional DJ and instrumentalist, amateur programmer, all-around lazy guy.

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