TIFF 2014: “Nightcrawler” – Review by Scott Menzel

TIFF 2014: Nightcrawler

Review by MovieManMenzel 

Nightcrawler is a dark and satirical look at the news that asks the burning question “Has the media gone too far?”

Nightcrawler follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an ex-criminal that can’t get a job so he decides to become a freelance cameraman. Throughout the night, Lou roams the streets of Los Angeles looking for accidents, murders, or anything that would make big headlines. As the days go on, Lou quickly becomes more and more obsessed with getting the biggest story of the night. It isn’t long before we learn that Lou will stop at nothing in order to get that major headline and make a name for himself as a cameraman.

I need to point out that I went into Nightcrawler completely blind. I didn’t watch a single trailer and I knew nothing plot wise about the film other than the fact that Gyllenhaal was in the film. A lot of my friends and colleagues saw the trailer and said it looked insane but I wanted to be completely unaware as to what I was getting into.  With that being said, if you haven’t seen the trailers for this film, please do not watch them! This is a film that I strongly believe will be best enjoyed knowing as little as possible about it.

Now, for the vast majority of my life, I studied media so it was a pleasant surprise to learn that Nightcraweler was a film about the current state of news media. There is a lot of subject matter discussed in this film that should lead audiences to start a conversation. I often wonder if society has become so desensitized by the media that what Nightcrawler addresses will be dismissed simply as entertainment rather than a dark and satirical look at news reporting. This film was like a combination of the classic film Network as well as the lesser known Series 7: The Contenders.

There are many reasons why this film works as well as it does, but the main reason is the performance by Gyllenhaal. I might even go on a ledge and argue that this is his best role to date because he is absolutely incredible in this film. This is coming from someone who has followed his career since he started back in 2001’s Donnie Darko as well as Jimmy in the silly yet lovable Bubble Boy.

I honestly swear that at one point in this film Gyllenhaal doesn’t seem human anymore. It is like he has no soul and becomes an alien. Throughout the film, his character Lou showcases so little emotion and as the film goes on he only becomes more and more fascinating to watch. This character has no remorse for the events that take place but at the same time he is highly intelligent and knows how to play the game. This is a very interesting character study as well as a critique on the current state of the media.

Besides Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed are the only other cast members worth mentioning because they are shown throughout the film. Bill Paxton does have a minor role as a cameraman that is in competition with Lou, but his role is very minor. Paxton does serve as Lou’s initial inspiration for getting into the business but after that his character is never really used or seen again.

As for Russo, she plays the head of the news organization that Lou sells his footage to. Her character as the film progresses becomes the perfect sidekick to Lou and I feel that, even though I would have liked to see a bit more development with her character, I do like what filmmaker Dan Gilroy did with her. I think Russo brings a level of mystery to her character but also showcases that her career is more important to her than anything else.

Riz Ahmed plays Gyllenhaal’s partner and his character is the film’s weakest link in my opinion. I completely understand that he was supposed to be a stupid character who is easily manipulated by Lou, but there gets to a point where it just becomes too far-fetched. There is one scene in particular where his character asks for a raise and asks for $75 and then no more than 10 minutes later finds out about a reward and demands half of the money. So wait, this guy doesn’t know to ask for more than $75 a week but knows that he is entitled to half of the reward. COME ON, I don’t buy it.

Director and writer Dan Gilroy turns Los Angeles into a very dark and gritty world. The script manages to tackle a lot of things pertaining to media, such as its role in creating a fear campaign and pushing the envelope; it even dares to answer the age-old question “What is the price of fame?” The way this film tackles and addresses various media elements is very impressive because it handles them all in a very smart and engaging manner.

Gilroy’s script as well as direction really built tension and engagement. There were only 10 minutes where I felt the film dragged a bit, but right after that the film went crazy. The film’s final 30 minutes were absolutely incredible and were about as intense as the final 45 minutes of Argo. I thought Nightcrawler was a perfect example of edge-of-your-seat excitement and the film’s conclusion was pretty solid as well.

While there is no denying that most of Gilroy’s script is very well-written and smart, it does have its flaws that can’t be ignored (but ultimately don’t really take away from the film as a whole). My main complaints revolve around Ahmed’s character, as I stated above, as well as a very weak opening that lacked depth. There are a few other things that bothered me but I can’t get into them without spoiling part of the film, so I will just leave them be.

In conclusion, Nightcrawler shows how cutthroat the news industry is while showcasing the ethics of those who control the media. Nightcrawler is smart, well-written, thought-provoking, and showcases yet another tour de force performance by Gyllenhaal. It is without a doubt a film that I think will be most appreciated by those who deeply understand and appreciate how the media works, but even for those who don’t I still think they will be highly engaged and thoroughly entertained.

MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Nightcrawler is an 8 out of 10.

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