Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Running Time: 1hr 57min
Plot: Sociopathic loner Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds his calling in the morbid world of nocturnal crime scene reportage; his desire to climb the ladder of his profession overrules his regard for the law or indeed for human life.
Ah, the montage of establishing shots featuring a night-time Los Angeles, how we wish we could see more of thee. Not. Three major mainstream films of the past two months have begun identically: Gone Girl, Maps to the Stars and now Nightcrawler all open with a series of dank shots of a desolate urban environment so as to unsubtly submerge the audience in the inherent danger of the environment without having to insert inter titles – ‘The City of SoandSo, Present Day’. Maybe telepathy is just particularity strong among filmmakers this year, but honestly no one has done this type of thing better than Michael Mann did with Heat back in ’95, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011) is the only director to have come close since. This negation may sound trivial but it is no longer excusable to adopt this kind of lackadaisical opening, used largely to cram in the main credits before the story starts, and it has been done to many multitudes of death by now.
Since we’re on the subject of the deceased, it’s as good a time as any to discuss the films plot. Played to an absolute tee by an emaciated, Gollum-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal, Lou Bloom is Nightcrawler’s fascinating anti-hero. Imagine Travis Bickle minus the morals and with ten times the ambition or Patrick Bateman but without the privileged background and beauty regime; that’s roughly the gauge of metal sickness you can expect from drifting bachelor Louis Bloom. Starting the film as a chancing thief, Bloom learns there’s much more money and excitement to be had in the freelance reporting game. All Lou has to do is buy a police radio, turn up to a crime scene with a camera, sell the footage to a low-rated news channel and hey presto! He’s made a buck and he’s absolutely hooked. The coverage business is, while not quite clandestine, looked down upon by law enforcement, but even his fellow ‘stringers’ shut the door in Lou’s face when he attempts to up his game. The solution? Rig crime scenes, hire – and underpay- a homeless helper (Riz Ahmed, in his first major role since Four Lions) and bribe a sinking network news manager (portrayed supremely by Rene Russo).
Dan Gilroy has been writing successful screenplays for over two decades, but Nightcrawler is the first of his scripts he’s deemed worthy of shooting himself. In one bold move, Mr Gilroy has transformed himself from Hollywood hack (he coughed up the 2012 Bourne Legacy script for his brother Tony, who directed) to successful, edgy filmmaker. Nightcrawler is artistic – but not to avant garde lengths – and pleasingly stylistic, providing a chilling character study of a desperate, lonely man who not only crosses the line but is encouraged to do so by those who should know better. News anchors, many of whom appear as themselves (including the inimitable Ken Shocknek – what a man, what a name!), can’t be as heartless and dozy as they are depicted in Nightcrawler, but Gilroy is certainly onto something with his matter of fact examination of the lengths a person under pressure will go to keep their job and keep the morning zombies tuning in.
Trailers have been purposefully kept out of this review, reason being that they ruin the experience by showing far more than they should. Just see the film, and enjoy some law-breakingly fast paced, no frills entertainment. Jake Gyllenhaal may just get an Oscar for this terrifying turn, so watch his face.