FILM REVIEW: Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler follows the story of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an enigmatic and intelligent man who wanders around Los Angeles in middle of the night trying to sell stolen materials from construction sites. By pure chance, he encounters a car accident and a filming crew that arrives at the site almost immediately to attain shocking footage for morning news. Driven by huge ambition, Lou decides to join this shady and cynical chase for information and soon finds himself profiting from human tragedies. In pursuit of money and recognition, his methods become more questionable and increasingly psychopathic.

The film is a directing debut for screenwriter Dan Gilroy, previously most famous for writing one of unproduced drafts for notorious Superman Lives project in the late 90s. While it might be his first time, the production itself feels very assured under his helm. Gripping from start to finish, the film somewhat blurs the line between pulse-pounding thriller, drama and dark comedy, always alternating between those multiple genre elements with impressive ease. It's quite an achievement for a first-timer.

Jake Gyllenhaal essentially plays an evil twin to his Robert Graysmith from David Fincher’s Zodiac. His character is driven by similar obsession, although with much more ominous results. One of the things he does really well is to use his pleasant and innocent appearance, that we know from other films, and turn it into something perverted and disturbing. And the most horrifying thing is that we never stop liking him, no matter what he’s doing. All of which is just as much of a testament to smart writing, as it is to acting. Although, one thing the audience can be wondering about is why isn’t Lou Bloom able to achieve his desired success through more conventional channels? Surely, with that level of intelligence and adaptability, he would be able to secure a more prestigious job? The script doesn’t really tell us enough about this man, leaving his motivation and history largely a mystery.

What’s additionally interesting about Bloom is that he never really evolves or changes throughout the story; there is no arc for him in this drama. Instead, he remains a constant element around which everything else changes. The way this man manages to spoil and corrupt almost everyone close to him is one single most disturbing aspect about Gilroy’s script and is illustrated through two crucial relationships. One of them is with Nina, an ageing KWLA television station news director. This woman is aware of her declining position within her trade and seeks the sociopathic contributions of Lou to increase viewing figures. All of that against moral objection of her assistants, as well as her own. Similarly to Gyllenhaal’s part, she is sketched only as a silhouette and remains largely enigmatic. Rene Russo takes advantage of that ambiguous material and manages to add a lot of shades to enrich what could have been a one-note supporting role.

The other crucial character must be Richard, a homeless man, whom Lou brain-drains into helping him with this shady reporting enterprise. Fragile and vulnerable, he doesn’t ask a lot of questions. Or even speak a lot, for that matter, but one can see struggle in his eyes, delicately conveyed by Riz Ahmed’s understated performance. He’s about the only real human character in this picture and almost a representation of Lou’s suppressed and abused conscience.

Nightcrawler, by its very premise, comments on the nature of media and how it distorts facts to create its own, very much fictional, narrative for masses to follow. Ignoring the obvious facts and important angles, news reporters pursue high ratings and prestige within this business. The honest and researched journalism is presented almost as a threat to those aspirations which, of course makes one wonder whether commercially-driven media have any real value at all, especially within this interconnected modern world. If money and success are the only deciding factors, are we not creating an increasingly psychopathic society in the process? This is the question Gilroy seems to be asking with this picture. And while his proposal might be in many respects quite obvious, it doesn’t make it any less relevant.

From a technical standpoint, Nightcrawler presents a solid work all around. Robert Elswit’s moody cinematography once again creates a very Fincher-esque impression of neo-noir thriller, while James Newton Howard’s score serves mostly to deepen the almost perpetually nocturnal vibe of this piece. Only occasionally does the composer employ woodwinds and warmer colour palette but it is used to sardonically show the audience how big this ever widening gap between the monster Lou Bloom actually is and the human being he’s trying to present himself as to other people.

While addressing some of valid and serious issues, the film never really stops to entertain. It’s constant juggling of seemingly contradicting tones and conventions that is extremely well handled by the director. He also manages to avoid some more obvious narrative pitfalls in his tightly-written script. While the central acting performance is among its strongest selling points and will presumably be getting some recognition during the upcoming award season, all of the supporting cast is excellent. If there is one regrettable thing about Dan Gilroy’s debut, it would be that it never really goes far enough in its grotesquery. Indeed, some things could have been pushed even further to match Lou Bloom’s level of psychopathy as well as intensity of Gyllenhaal’s performance. As a result, Nightcrawler is sometimes a bit tame but always intriguing and intelligent.

- Karol

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