Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, is a mesmerising and stylish vehicle driven with conviction by Jake Gyllenhaal’s disturbingly brilliant performance.
Set amidst a largely nocturnal backdrop of modern L.A., we follow Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom, a young man desperate for work, as he stumbles across – and ruthlessly enters into – the dubious world of exploitative crime journalism for television.
Lou becomes a ‘nightcrawler’, a freelance cameramen who trawls the streets in search of crime and tragedy following the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ culture for sales to the networks. From the offset Lou’s unnerving nature seeps out of his practiced smiles, rehearsed words and bulging eyes. It’s a portrayal of a psychopath cleverly intertwined with that of the media’s acceptance of, or perhaps requirement of, such a disposition.
Nightcrawler is equally as dark as it is thrilling, with captivating scenes spanning high speed car chases and shootouts, to intimate insights of Lou in his apartment, laughing to himself and looking to someone who isn’t there. The film’s eerie tone is enhanced by the fact Lou’s exploits take place under the cloak of night along to James Newton Howard’s moody soundtrack, as he slithers through the dark streets whose lights are as artificial as his personality.
Some of the more subtle nuances of Gyllenhaal’s performance strike the hardest, such as the euphoric widening of his eyes and expelling of air as he witnesses anything awful; it thrills him, just as it thrills us. He thrives on his role as a voyeur, yet there is a part of him in all of us as an audience of voyeurs. It’s just that his role in fuelling the unrelenting media machine is more direct than most.
Lou’s relationship with an aging female network boss (Rene Russo) – who is willing to turn a blind eye to any criminal misgivings for the sake of ratings – provides an intense and often uncomfortable edge. As much as she attempts to rebuff Lou’s manipulative charm, she is transfixed by his merciless drive for success at any cost – it holds up a mirror to her own desperate desire to succeed.
The film’s critique on the media is its most interesting aspect – we witness from start to finish how events are captured and then translated back to us, and the meaning they lose along the way.
Nightcrawler succeeds as a thought-provoking and confident thriller; like the gruesome new stories it revolves around, you cannot tear your eyes away.
Nightcrawler screened at Phoenix in December 2014