Nightcrawler is a neo-noir crime thriller written and directed by Dan Gilroy. The film, set in a nocturnal Los Angeles, follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man desperate for work who happens upon the world of “nightcrawling”—a trade where freelance journalists monitor police scanners in order to rush to the scene of wrecks, fires, assaults, murders, and more to capture video of the events to sell to the highest bidder. Determined to make himself an overnight success, Lou embarks on a determined, but twisted journey into the bloodthirsty business of turning crime into dollar signs.
Of all the films released in 2014, you will not find a more sadistic, but comical, spine-chilling, but appalling one than Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Dan Gilroy has not had the most prestigious career in film, making his mark only as an average writer in the industry (over a 20-year period, from 1992–2012, he penned only six screenplays). But in Nightcrawler (Gilroy’s directorial debut), he has elevated himself into “a-force-to-be-reckoned-with” territory. This film explores the old media adage of “if it bleeds, it leads,” and this broad, violent idea provides Gilroy with plenty of room to delve deep into the underbelly of society’s voyeuristic lust for blood. I am sure everyone is familiar with the term “rubbernecking,” (commonly used to describe slowing down to view the scene of a car accident) and this is the primal theme that Gilroy surveys. In the film, Lou chases down accidents, murders, and so on before the police can arrive to shoot footage of the incident, and then he negotiates for the purchase of that footage with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the morning news director at a failing local TV station who desperately needs a boost in ratings. Therefore, Gilroy’s story is the manifestation of the cyclical demand for this raw, brutal footage: society is enabled by Lou (who shoots the footage), Lou is enabled by Nina (who purchases his footage), Nina is enabled by the news station (who is in dire need of an increase in ratings), and the news station is in turn enabled by society (who craves this footage). The concept seems so simple, and Gilroy does an exceptional job of delineating this perverse plot in the most irksome way.
One mark of a great writer is his/her ability to create a memorable character, such as Tarantino’s Hans Landa (Inglourious Basterds), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Daniel Plainview (There Will Be Blood), and Oliver Stone’s Tony Montana (Scarface). In Lou Bloom, Dan Gilroy has created one of the most inexplicable, sociopathic, and demented characters since Travis Bickle in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. One of the most unnerving features of Lou Bloom is his appearance. Jake Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds for the role, and this gauntness is the defining characteristic of his portrayal of the ruthless antihero. Gyllenhaal’s eyes appear sunken in throughout (making him look like an unsettled insomniac), and his greased-back hair and robotic-like demeanor go perfectly hand-in-hand with Lou’s manic rhetoric throughout the film. An established actor in the industry, Gyllenhaal is no stranger to remarkable, critically acclaimed performances. But I believe that his portrayal of Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler is by far his greatest of all time—this is why, in my opinion, the Academy’s biggest mistake this year (aside from The Lego Movie getting jipped) was leaving Gyllenhaal out of the Best Actor category. Apart from Gyllenhaal’s physical dedication to the role of Lou, he delivers one of the most icily neurotic performances of 2014. Lou is a fascinating mix of blank-stared sociopath and charismatic comic, and Gyllenhaal brings these utterly multifarious characteristics to life in an unruly manner.
Nightcrawler also features some marvelous supporting performances from Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed. Russo (writer/director Dan Gilroy’s real-life wife) executes her role as the morning news director Nina Romina with effortlessness. Nina knows that her job is on the line at a news station that is rapidly faltering, and with that in the back of her mind, she must go to extreme lengths to survive. She is chilling in her own way (not to mention wildly matter-of-fact), and Russo gives one of the most surprising performances in Nightcrawler. Riz Ahmed also gives an unpredictable breakout performance as Rick, Lou’s ill-fated recruit/sidekick. Riding around every single night with Lou (a character with little to no moral compass), Rick is consistently besieged by the ferocious nature of this business—he attempts to be, to no avail, the voice of reason for the nightcrawling duo. Ahmed brilliantly delineates the conflicted nature of Rick’s character, and he breathes a humanistic vivacity into the only character worthy of empathy. Nightcrawler is rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.
Nightcrawler trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1uP_8VJkDQ
Academy Award nominations for Nightcrawler:
Best Original Screenplay (Dan Gilroy)
Previous movies on the countdown of the Top 15 Films of 2014:
- Starred Up
- The Theory of Everything
- Blue Ruin
- American Sniper
- Guardians of the Galaxy
- Gone Girl
- The Lego Movie