Today, I am going to be doing something with Nightcrawler that I’ve not done for quite a long time; I am giving a movie a 5 star rating. Sometimes a movie comes along that’s so perfect on so many layers that you really can’t point out a weak spot; this is that kind of movie. Nightcrawler is an absorbing, incredibly written, incredibly directed and incredibly acted character study that blew me away.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a demented, drifter who dives deep into the world of LA crime journalism. He becomes one of the people who record murders, cars accidents and robberies in the area and then sell the footage to local news channels. Lou and his intern Rick (Riz Ahmed) go to the limit to get the crime scene footage they want for an aging morning news director named Nina (Rene Russo) in ways that range from possibly questionable to extremely illegal.
Usually with sociopaths and other villains in movies, you’ll at least be able to see empathy or a moment of humanity or passion. In a good way, Lou Bloom is one of the most robotic and lifeless characters I’ve seen. The first moment in the movie is him stealing from a construction site as he drifts aimlessly looking for any kind of job. Much like Daniel Plainview in There will be Blood or Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs, we never get to see a backstory or a hint or a sincere explanation from him for what he does. Lou is a straightforward, heartless sociopath born from the culture around him.
Lou is because he is the dark, personification of the artificiality and commercialism of the 21st century. He hides his inner emptiness in phony and fake lines picked off of motivational posters used by bosses and advertisements. He has read every inspirational book, tracked every article relating to the things he wants and has studied every lesson that will help him destroy or overpower you psychologically and physically. He encompasses all of the insecurities and fears of the people around him to get the things he desires. The people he records are no more than things he exploits to receive fame, money and power. He doesn’t comprehend the sheer sadness of the things that he is recording. He is an insomniac who has scrolled upon hours of information to find the best ways to be human and both the tragedy and horror of Lou Bloom is that beneath the false, monotony of his well thought out words, he is mankind at its most soulless. He is the empty eyes fascinating and driving us to destruction.
Nightcrawler goes the extra level because of its equally gigantic focus on the characters that Lou uses and schemes against. Nina is in charge of one the least successful local news channel in LA and she is willing to break giant moral codes to get the ratings she can to survive. She succeeds whenever she finds the dark, violent stories that capture the attention the average LA person on the street. In Lou, she gets the thing that will do her dirty work. Her desperation and knowledge of the shallowness of many of the citizens of the city is what drives Lou to become the master of the trade. By the time the movie ends, Nina seems to fully understand the sheer sickness of him and she is ultimately powerless to stop the monster she shed a light on. There grows a sort of mutual relationship between these two flawed people, Nina gets rating and attention from people and Lou gets a job that allows him to be twisted and obsessive. It’s with Nina that we get a glimpse of why Lou isn’t thrown away as an outcast and why he is actually taken seriously. He presents to us the visceral, clearly manipulative things that we all privately want to see and believe regardless of actual truth or morality. That is the ideal that builds every aspect of his mind.
The other big character is Rick, the protégé/intern to Bloom. Rick is easily tricked by Lou because of the fact that he is homeless. He wants to get paid and find a good job and in Lou he wants to get on his feet again. Of all the people in the movie, Rick is far and away the most likable character. He is portrayed as a dumb but also sincere and nice person who just wants to have a peace of mind. He doesn’t mean to do the things he does but he only wants to make some money. Lou doesn’t view Rick as more than just a tool he can use to increase his options and he constantly puts him in danger in the name of his own credibility. Because of the increasingly, dangerous things that they go up against, Rick ends up becoming the only character to try to stand up to what Lou does and that strange, compelling teacher/student relationship results in an unforgettable, breathtaking climax that is surprisingly heartbreaking. Rick brings to Nightcrawler the needed kindness and heart to make it that much more affecting.
So the movie is brilliantly written, has master characters and clear, vast themes, but what about the performances. Nightcrawler has the best cast I’ve seen this year. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Lou is a masterpiece of cinema. You can’t take your eyes off the screen whenever he’s present. He captures of the crazed anger as well as the hollow inanity of everything he says. He is hilarious and horrifying and he makes the movie what it is. Many references with the two have been made but personally, Gyllenhaal’s performance here is just as good as Daniel Day Lewis’s performance as Plainview in There will be Blood. Jake dives into the madness of Bloom and creates an iconic character with a performance that will probably be one of the best of the decade. I’m being fully honest right now, Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance in Nightcrawler is one of the best I’ve seen not just this year but of the past decade, he’s that powerful in the role. If he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for this movie then that deserves to go down as one of the bigger snubs of recent memory. I would even argue that him not winning best actor would be one of the bigger snubs of recent memory.
Rene Russo also deserves credit for playing Nina with a very sleazy yet human quality. She does a great job playing off of Gyllenhaal and it’s about as great a performance as you can get with the character. Riz Ahmed won’t get a lot of attention as Rick in comparison to the more larger than life performances of Jake and Rene but in a better world he’d be just as much on the awards table with Gyllenhaal even if he’s not technically as good. Riz plays Rick very humbly and down to earth. Especially in the third act, Riz gets a lot of moments to be the shining light in a movie of shallow and self-interested people. The cast is fantastic and Jake Gyllenhaal builds one of the more unforgettable and important characters of late.
For his directorial debut, Dan Gilroy shows a ton of promise. He made a great choice in getting Paul Thomas Anderson cinematographer Robert Elswit for the movie. Elswit captures a night in Los Angeles with an intense, vivid glow that is hard to look away from. The city feels alive and electric and it helps build the intensity of all that is happening. The movie is efficiently edited, there isn’t a single moment in the movie that’s wasted and you feel you’re on this ride with the main character. The soundtrack by James Newton Howard has this very sleazy, techno/rock vibe that’s reminiscent of late 80’s/early 90’s cinema. A lot of the stuff near the climax is very well shot and edited and it’s impressive to me that on a budget of 8 million dollars, Nightcrawler makes a chase scene that’s better than that of most big, blockbusters. Nightcrawler is a technically great movie and Dan Gilroy is obviously now a filmmaker I look forward to seeing more of in the future.
In the future, people will remember The Joker, Anton Chigurh and Daniel Plainview as 21st century film icons. I truly believe we have found with Lou Bloom another name in that category. Nightcrawler is a truly modern psychological thriller and Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is why we go the movies. Run; don’t crawl to go see this phenomenal, layered satire that is well deserving of its grade that’s the first of 2014.
Release Date: 10/31/2014
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy