Ford On Film

Chronicles of a silver screen addict

Film Review: Nightcrawler

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a dangerously committed man. This is a man who, in the opening few minutes of the film, will sell you stolen copper wire and still ask you to hire him. A man who will sneak into crime scenes to record the bloodiest footage. A man who will blackmail business associates into relationships to further his career. There have been comparisons with Travis Bickle but make no mistake; Lou is a 21st century Rupert Pupkin.
Directed by Dan Gilroy, this disturbing, blackly comic thriller follows loner Bloom as he witnesses an automobile accident and is introduced to the world of ‘nightcrawling’; filming crime scenes and selling the footage to news crews. After buying a camera and a police scanner, and hiring a shifty street hustler (Riz Ahmed) as his assistant, Bloom sets out intrusively filming car wrecks and gunshot victims for Rene Russo’s desperate news director (her slogan: “the bloodier, the better”). Soon, Lou finds himself losing the race to the best footage with a rival nightcrawler (Bill Paxton), and, like a modern re-telling of 1951’s Ace in the Hole, becomes directly involved in making the news…

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Nightcrawler is a rare film that provokes easy comparisons, yet doesn’t feel at all like a rehash or an unoriginal property. Most notably, Nightcrawler feels spiritually connected to Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn’s cult hit. Bloom, like Ryan Gosling’s driver, seems to come alive at night (and from the looks of his gaunt face, never sleeps), driving around under the bright street lights of Los Angeles, and Gilroy films car chases and high speed pursuits with the same grace and clarity of Refn. As previously mentioned, there’s a classic-Scorcese influence in Gyllenhaal’s disaffected loner and the fairly bleak tone. Most of all though, in Gyllenhaal’s performance as a polite sociopath, it reminded me of American Psycho. Lou never goes full Patrick Bateman, a mirror smashing aside, but he always seems just a step away from praising Hip To Be Square and going on a rampage with an axe (funnily enough, Gyllenhaal played a Bateman-esque character in the fantastic video for The Shoes’ Time to Dance).
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Despite its cinematic referencing, Nightcrawler is still an original commodity, and an excellent one at that. The script isn’t hugely subtle (there are a couple of speeches which conveniently sum up the entire ethos of the film) but it’s impressive in how exciting it makes what amounts to no real plot (it’s more an escalation of events than a real story), and how interesting a bunch of morally vacant characters can be. Later in the film, there are some unusually affecting scenes in a rich couple’s house and a brilliantly unexpected twist, but most of all, Gilroy’s script is great in how utterly irredeemable it makes Bloom. There isn’t a big realisation or a changing of attitudes; Lou’s a pretty horrible, ruthlessly ambitious character from beginning to end.
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The supporting cast are uniformly great, especially London-born Riz Ahmed (doing a hugely convincing American accent). Known in the UK for Four Lions, he is excellently jittery, portraying couch-surfer Rick as a guy willing to ignore all of his morals and principles for a measly $30 a night (compared to Bloom’s thousands of dollars). Ahmed is popular enough in his home country, but hopefully his performance in Nightcrawler will get him noticed elsewhere, for he is a terrific actor and he makes Rick stay on the right side of likable, despite his questionable actions. Russo, playing a Network-esque news director who, according to Bloom, “lasts two years” in every news job she’s had, is wonderfully acidic. One of the only characters who truly understands what Lou is about, she takes part in perhaps the best scene of the film; a horrifically uncomfortable dinner date which starts with her telling Bloom she doesn’t date co-workers and ends with him viciously telling her he’ll ruin her career if she doesn’t give in to his demands. It’s well written, well performed, and Russo makes her seemingly one-note character fully sympathetic.
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There is no doubting, however, that this is Jake Gyllenhaal’s film through and through. One of the best (and most underrated) actors of his generation, Gyllenhaal has already given a lifetime’s worth of great performances, but Lou Bloom may just be his iconic role. Previously praised for playing weirdos (Donnie Darko), compassionate, conflicted lovers (Brokeback Mountain) and dedicated professionals (Prisoners, End of Watch, Zodiac), Nightcrawler gives him something entirely new to play with; the villain. Most antiheroes are in some way likable or relatable or seek redemption but not Lou. He’s a pure villain, easy to hate and impossible to love, and it is an outstanding performance by Gyllenhaal that keeps the audience interested for the film’s relatively lengthy two hour running time. Nightcrawler may be too dark and sharp for Academy voters, but if Gyllenhaal doesn’t get nominated for Best Actor, it will be a crime against cinema, for this is possibly the greatest performance you will see in 2014.
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Nightcrawler is beautifully shot and directed, with a disturbingly plausible narrative and several twists and turns that keep the film as fresh and exciting as any good crime thriller should be. The script is dynamic and witty, featuring several excellent characters brought to life by a more-than-capable cast, but ultimately, this is Jake Gyllenhaal’s film. Charismatic, intense, charming and disturbing in equal measures, Bloom should be his Travis Bickle, his Tyler Durden, his R.P. McMurphy; an iconic role that may eventually be bettered, but will never be forgotten.

Grade: A

By Harry Ford




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