Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Dan Gilroy
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton.
When we first meet Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) he is a loner, a grifter and petty thief stealing copper wire to make some extra cash. But then one night while driving around Los Angeles on the lookout for another opportunity he drives past a car crash. He spies a veteran cameraman (Bill Paxton) recording the carnage and quickly asks him a series of questions about his work. When he sees the footage on the morning news he believes he has found his calling.
Armed with a cheap camcorder and a police scanner, Bloom sets out to film victims of accidents and violent crime. His up close and personal footage attracts the attention of hard bitten veteran news producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo), whose attitude is “if it bleeds, it leads.” Aware that her position as head of news on a lowly rated station is shaky she is keen to seize any opportunity to prove her worth. She champions Bloom’s grisly footage and he becomes more aggressive in his pursuit of gory footage of tragedy and newsworthy events. The more shocking the footage, the better the ratings. And he even manages to somehow emotionally blackmail Nina into a sexual relationship.
Bloom even hires an eager young apprentice in desperate street hustler Rick (played by Riz Ahmed, from Four Lions, etc) and tries to teach him some of the rudiments of the profession. Rick provides a more moral voice to counterbalance Bloom’s ruthless approach to his job. But the lengths to which Lou is prepared to go to manipulate events to his advantage is quite chilling. Arriving at an accident scene before even the emergency services he moves a body to get a better shot.
Bloom is a ruthless and amoral character who works his way to the top of a competitive and cutthroat business. But he quickly blurs the line between passive observer and participant, especially when he is on the scene of a home invasion and brutal murder first. He enters the murder scene and films the victims and the killers well before the authorities arrive on the scene. Instead of handing his footage over to the police though he decides to sit on it until he can find the right time to call the police and film the arrest. The scene in which police arrive at a Chinese restaurant to arrest the pair of killers is quite tense in its staging.
Nightcrawler is a dark, driven psychological thriller and character study. It marks the directorial debut for screenwriter Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy, etc), who has established quite a reputation over the past few years. Oscar winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood, etc) captures the neon lit urban landscapes of nighttime Los Angeles, shooting the action in dark colours, which effectively enhances the unsettling and uneasy mood of the film. Elswit has shot the daytime sequences in 35mm, while he uses digital film for the night time sequences. But the way in which many of the scenes are shot through the lens of Lou’s camera lends a voyeuristic quality to the material and almost makes the audience complicit.
Gilroy proves quite adept at staging some efficient action sequences here. There is a great car chase, which benefits from the fluid editing of John Gilroy, the director’s brother.
Gyllenhaal turns in a complex and terrifying performance as the manic, socially awkward and clearly disturbed Bloom, who may suffer from a mild form of autism. Gyllenhaal has chosen interesting and off beat roles in his career (Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko, End Of Watch, last year’s strong and compelling Prisoners, etc) rather than big budget more commercial and mainstream fare, and here he delivers a career best performance. There is already Oscar buzz surrounding his performance in this tricky and decidedly unsympathetic role that has sinister echoes of Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin.
With his pale, haunted visage, his gaunt look and big eyes, and his nasally twang, Gyllenhaal appears quite creepy here as the sociopathic Bloom. He also lost weight to convincingly play Bloom. We do not get a lot of information about his backstory, but Gyllenhaal’s performance holds the attention, and gives us enough insights into his driven and obsessed character.
We haven’t seen much of Russo on screen for a while, but here she is strong as the veteran news producer who is aware that Bloom’s footage is enhancing the reputation and ratings of her station’s news and becomes complicit in his methods. And there is something unhealthy in the relationship between the pair as they seem to feed a need in each other.
With its corrosive look at the mercenary and morally murky world of the paparazzi, freelance news photographers and the questionable ethics of television news that values sensationalism over integrity, Nightcrawler is a gritty and disturbing 21st century cousin to other cynical films about journalism, like Billy Wilder’s Ace In The Hole, Network and Broadcast News.