Nightcrawler (2014) Directed by Dan Gilroy. With Jake Gyllehaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton.
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy (his first directorial offering), Nightcrawler is a dark, disturbing thriller set on the night-time streets of Los Angeles, in which Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllehaal) seizes the opportunity to become a freelance cameraman – showing up at crime and accident scenes with a view to selling his footage to a local TV news outlet.
Straight off, the look and tone feels agreeably akin to the work of Michael Mann, as we’re introduced to the neon soaked streets of L.A. This is a hustlers world, brimming with madness around the edges. Gyllenhal’s Louis is a world-class weirdo. We know nothing about his past; only that he’s a loner – a bit like Travis Bickle from Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, but with added powers of manipulation and self-control. His drive and determination are matched only by his strangeness, as he spends his nights listening in to police radio chatter, fishing for the next tragedy to exploit.
Gyllenhal is a tremendous actor, and like any great, he shows us a previously unseen depth of ability by giving a deeply committed performance. After only a few scenes, Gylenhaal the ‘movie star’ dissolves and Louis comes to life. Tearing up the tarmac of L.A in his red, shiny Dodge Challenger (complete with go faster stripes), the film echoes the likes of Drive as Louis and his ‘assistant’ (Riz Ahmed) race against the clock to get the job done. Louis views each crime-scene as an opportunity and sees himself as an artist.
The plot itself could easily be lifted from an instalment of the Grand Theft Auto video game series; one in which your missions are to carry out ‘jobs’ all over the city until you gain promotions to ‘up’ your social status and pimp your ride. Talking of promotions, Rene Russo is excellent as Louis’ boss (of sorts). She exists in the cut-throat world of TV-news, and her instincts are sharp enough to tell her that Louis has the ability to mine gold. They don’t, however, prepare her for the depths he will go to get exactly what he wants.
The manipulative world of TV-news is up for a bitch-slap, as we witness the depths of which they will go to in the name of ratings. News is edited to add drama to tragedy, much in the way we see it play out on the likes of FOX news. On this level, the film has a resonance that has the potential to leave a sickly feeling in your stomach.
Darker than dark and with Gyllenhaal giving a landmark central performance ranging from cartoon bad-guy to calculating monster – Nightcrawler is a highly impressive debut from Dan Gilroy. 4.5/5