TIFF 2014: Nightcrawler
Review by Daniel Rester
Nightcrawler is continued evidence that Jake Gyllenhaal may just be one of the best actors of his generation. After such powerful recent work in End of Watch (2012), Prisoners (2013), and Enemy (2014), Gyllenhaal once again fires on all cylinders in Nighcrawler. Prepare to be riveted by the actor’s work here.
Sorry comic book fans, Nightcrawler has nothing to do with the blue-skinned Marvel character. Instead the film is about Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a mysterious and driven man who uses shady methods to get what he wants. Bloom moves his methods over to freelance crime journalism in Los Angeles after becoming fascinated by a news crew that he comes across.
Bloom’s dark journey into do-anything-for-the-news territory has him come across car crashes, murders, and police activities. Nina (Rene Russo), a backroom news editor, soon enters Bloom’s life; she is determined to keep high ratings, so she employs Bloom to get the job done. Also on the scene are Chris, a rival news hunter played by Bill Paxton, and Rick, a young and naive man played by Riz Ahmed. Rick becomes a protégé of sorts to Bloom.
Nightcrawler is written by experienced screenwriter Dan Gilroy, who makes his directorial debut here. And it’s a fine directorial job at that. While the first fifteen minutes or so of the film feel a bit miscalculated and out of place, Gilroy quickly establishes a tightrope of suspense that he sustains throughout the picture. He infuses grit and style into his view of nighttime LA without ever losing the power of the story or the actors’ talents. Though not as unique and colorful as the look in Drive (2011), Nightcrawler gives us an interesting and memorable view of LA.
Gilroy’s vision is helped made possible by cinematographer Robert Elswit. Elswit is a genius at framing both characters and environments, crafting perfect images for dramatic storytelling. The man has worked on such films as There Will Be Blood (2007) and The Town (2010), and Nightcrawler joins those films as being some of his best work. Elswit’s camerawork here is smooth and the images have a quality balance of sharpness and grain in capturing the night settings. I do wish we were treated to a few more wide shots, but I understand Gilroy and Elswit’s decision to focus on intense close-ups here.
Also excellent is the editing by John Gilroy (Dan’s brother) and the music by James Newton Howard. Both aspects feel organic in their flow and aid Dan Gilroy in keeping things moving. One particular scene involving a police chase is a master class on all technical fronts, providing one of the most thrilling movie scenes of 2014.
Gilroy’s writing is also pretty sharp. I feel like the supporting characters could have been given a bit more depth, and Bloom’s provided backstory is fairly limited. Still, the four main characters are well-realized in supporting the story itself. Gilroy keeps his main character charming and interesting even as he dives into strange depths, making Bloom almost feel like an echo of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho (2000) – only with media obsession and not murder. With the story, Gilroy takes darkly satirical stabs at the ridiculousness of crime news and the over-determination by some people in seeking the “American Dream.”
While all of the technical aspects and the performances by Russo, Paxton, and Ahmed are strong, this is Gyllenhaal’s show. The actor brings both quiet intensity and outward ferocity to the table, setting Bloom on a slow burner that picks up heat as the story unfolds. The performance contains weirdness, scariness, and an odd charisma. This is simply dynamic and dedicated work by Gyllenhaal, and it’s great to see him in an anti-hero type of role.
Nightcrawler has a bumpy start, a few issues along the way, and a convenient denouement. However, this is an impressive debut by Gilroy that displays some serious directorial talent. He was lucky to have an actor like Gyllenhaal on his side in pushing his material forward. It will be exciting to see where both the director and actor go next, and I hope a follow-up collaboration between the two is a possibility.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).
MPAA Rating: R (for violence, bloody images, and language).
Runtime: 1 hour and 57 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: October 31st, 2014.