Believe it or not, even this movie isn’t as pathetic or bloodthirsty as the crew at TMZ.
It’s no secret that our modern society has a grotesque fascination with crime developments, but in Nightcrawler, the debut film of director Dan Gilroy, that fascination with the dark side of media is taken to alarming new heights. In many ways, it’s an infinitely superior take on the seedy neon underbellies of the world to Only God Forgives. With a fantastic lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal (recently nominated by the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild), Nightcrawler certainly makes Gilroy a bold name to watch in the future.
Brightly but forebodingly lit by Robert Elswit and underscored by an electric guitar led score by James Newton Howard, the film quickly and efficiently establishes the world of Nightcrawler with the vibe of a neon cesspool of predators and scroungers, one that makes it prime for attention grabbing stories to put food on the table. The film is heavily thematic in its approaches, noting the intense impact that media has on its viewers, developing an eerie examination of using stories to feed the fear of viewers. Street violence has become a touchy issue in recent years, and for all the horrible effects we preach about it causing, at the same time, there’s still a sickly rooted craving for it. Nightcrawler’s sobering use of violence sticks with you longer than any misguided sermons Jack Thompson would try to peddle to you, using the media outlet, which has a no-holds-barred account of violence, to the point that people literally make money from borderline snuff films, to astonishing effect
At the very bottom of the pit of scavengers is Louis Bloom, an opportunistic jackal by nature and appearance played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who literally makes his living based on the misfortune of others. Just as bloodthirsty and attention craving as any media outlet, the character is a manipulative and deceivingly friendly figure who will either shake your hand, or snap your neck. There is no in-between with him. A fast learner by nature, as he makes his way up the ladder of progress, his hunger may be pacified for a short time, but his morals grow increasingly vile, until the character becomes an irredeemable shell of a human being with no regard for the well-being of others, becoming involved in the stories he covers to the degree that he becomes a part of the crime scenes he films. There’s a throwaway line in the film in which Bloom says “I like to think if you’re seeing me, you’re having the worst day of your life”, and this line carries so much deep-rooted truth, likening Bloom as a figure of death and suffering with his mere presence. The whole film has a very unnerving and slow burning suspense throughout, and Gyllenhaal centers all of it spectacularly, acting as an embodiment of terror in his own right.
Alas, if there’s anything that damages Nightcrawler, once the third act is underway, things have become silly and hyperbolic even for the film’s own hyper-realism. Once these stretches of the film reach us, the film begins to up the suspense and lingering dread, and then throws us into a major action set-piece. The staging is quite excellent, and it features the finest stunt-driving I’ve seen in any movie this year, and while I’m okay with the idea of these sequences on paper, what I am not okay with is that it feels like the antithesis to everything beforehand in execution. Things escalate a bit too quickly, the subtext is blatantly spelled out, and it flat out succumbs to predictability. A great virtue for the film is that, for the most part, you could never accurately guess how events were ultimately going to turn out. With the last twenty-five minutes, you always know exactly what direction it’s going. It’s not enough to inherently ruin the film, as everything before is too excellent to ignore, but for something with so much build-up to it, the aftermath can’t help but carry a sour aftertaste.
Still, if you can forgive its gaping flaws, Nightcrawler is still an incredibly ambitious film that deserves attention, and in a theatrical environment if you still have the chance.
**** / *****