Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Prisoners) and Rene Russo (Thor)
Director: Dan Gilroy
U.S. Release: October 31st, 2014 (Rated R)
Runtime: 117 minutes
*** Guest Review by Greg Rouleau
There’s something remarkably intriguing about Los Angeles at night. From the beautiful skyscrapers of the downtown area, the Hollywood hills overlooking a sea of illumination, the vastness of the valley and the Pacific coast - cinematically, the “City of Angels” is a perfect backdrop for the genre of crime-thrillers. As seen in Michael Mann’s Heat and Collateral, to the recent indie Drive, there’s a pulse from the urban setting that is unmistakable. There’s no doubt that long-time writer, Dan Gilroy, with his first foray into the directing chair, was inspired by this locale for his new film, Nightcrawler. Gilroy’s directorial debut is a wildly entertaining thrill ride that takes its time building up to a fantastic climax in the streets of downtown LA, but the payoff is worth the price of admission alone.
Louis Bloom is a drifter trying to earn a few bucks by pawning some stolen fencing and manhole covers during a late night excursion. During his night out he stumbles upon a freeway accident where a couple of brave cops are attempting to rescue a woman from a burning car. Like most of us would, he can’t turn away from the gruesome scene and investigates further, but what ultimately fascinates him is the guerrilla videographer who shows up at the right time to grab some footage to sell to the morning news. “If it bleeds – it leads”, says the journalist, played with the perfect combination of charisma and sleaze by Bill Paxton. From that moment, Bloom becomes a dedicated “nightcrawler”, purchasing a video camera and learning the tricks of the trade as he goes, it then becomes a question of how far is he willing to go in order to get a jump on his competition?
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, and it’s not hyperbole to say that even with an already impressive résumé, Nightcrawler is his best performance to date. Credit Gilroy, too, for crafting such a character on the page. A role like this in the wrong hands can easily become clichéd. There’s an eerie calm to the way Lou operates, and conviction behind his every word. He’s so convincing that you can imagine trusting him one moment, and the next, fearing that he may be criminally deranged. Gyllenhaal is entering a period in his career where he could’ve succumbed to leading roles in more mainstream films, but it’s characters like this that seem to catch his eye and we’re all the better for it.
Gyllenhaal isn’t alone in the captivating performances, however, Rene Russo – wife of Gilroy - who has largely been absent for a decade now, aside from a small role in the Thor franchise – is outstanding as Nina, the editor who desperately needs a boost to her station’s ratings, and builds a relationship with the enigmatic Bloom. Then there’s Riz Ahmed, who is a breath of fresh air and delivers an outstanding turn as Rick, Bloom’s intern. The scenes between Gyllenhaal and Ahmed are often the film’s lightest moments.
Surprisingly, with a title like Nightcrawler and a premise that deals with underground crime journalism, there are quite a few laughs throughout. Even if it’s all very tongue-in-cheek, humor seems to find its way into many scenes. Although the occasional laugh is welcome, you wonder if Gilroy could’ve pushed the envelope a little more when it came to the disturbing subject matter. Without spoiling anything, there’s a pivotal scene late in the film that you have to wonder if it was altered because it may have been a little too unsettling for some. Then there’s light media satire that presents itself, when Nina pushes the ethics of her staff to show footage that flirts with breaking the law.
Despite Dan Gilroy not being a household name, there’s plenty of impressive direction on display here. The performances across the board are impressive and his ability to build tension throughout is quite admirable. He also handles the few action sequences with grace. You can color me intrigued as to what his next project may be. It’s that time of the year when movies helmed by prestigious filmmakers start making their way into theaters to generate Oscar buzz, but it’s also a period where moviegoers are in search of some thrills because of the Halloween season. While Nightcrawler may be flying under the radar for some, it’s absolutely the perfect marriage of the two thanks to some dazzling direction and a steady stream of thrills.
Stars: 3 and a half stars out of 4