“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you?”
Lou Bloom, a hungry, sociopathic freelance crime cameraman played by the magnificent Jake Gyllenhaal is deeply unsettling. He’s a man on a mission; hell-bent on growing his ‘company’, he takes to the LA streets and hires a lowly intern (Riz Ahmed) to assist him in Lou’s endeavours to make as much money as possible by capturing horrific incidents. Yet as the film continues, Lou’s progression into insanity and lust for power showcases himself as the true horror…
This is Jake Gyllenhaal’s best performance of his career to date. With a mixture of Bale’s Bateman (American Psycho), Damon’s Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Robert De Niro’s Pupkin (The King of Comedy), Gyllenhaal is downright terrifying and virtually unrecognisable, playing his character with such menace that it’s easy to forget he’s acting. While Gyllenhaal faces stiff competition in this year’s Oscars race, he does more than enough to earn a nomination; whether the Academy recognise his performance is another matter entirely. Losing 13kg of weight for his role, Lou Bloom looks hungry both figuratively and literally; an unnerving presence on screen that imposes himself in every single shot. With the film focused on Gyllenhaal, it is easy to disregard the additionally stellar performances of Nightcrawler’s supporting cast; namely Riz Ahmed as Rick, whom Lou hires, and Rene Russo as Nina, a television news producer that befriends and inevitably gets out of her depth with Lou. Riz Ahmed is brilliantly hapless as Rick, where the final 30 minutes establishes himself as a sympathetic pushover that struggles to stand up for himself when Lou manipulates. Similarly, Rene Russo makes a welcome comeback as a hardened, occasionally-despicable character that bears many parallels with Lou (though at times this point is enforced rather too heavy-handedly).
Aesthetically, Nightcrawler is a beautiful film. With stunning scenery, dark, brooding cinematography and an impressive method of shooting each car chase from first-time director Dan Gilroy, the LA streets and landscape haven’t looked this impressive since Nicolas Winding-Refn’s Drive. And in terms of pacing, Nightcrawler ticks the boxes as it slowly descends from one act to an increasingly despicable other, crescendoing into a tense, fascinating, brilliantly-edited final 20 minutes that keep your eyes fixated on the screen. Nightcrawler is intense, disconcerting and progressively insane, but is not without its faults.
The main problem of Nightcrawler lies within the writing of Jake Gyllenhaal’s monstrosity of a character. It’s desperately difficult to conform to director Gilroy’s intentions and root for Gyllenhaal’s anti-hero when he does nothing to earn the audience’s sympathy. Without a backstory or reasoning behind the character’s actions, any empathy for him diminishes. Scenes early on in the film, such as when he’s disappointingly rejected a job, do nothing when the audience are aware beforehand of how evil a character Lou Bloom is by the film’s opening scene. Can we really support the character’s endeavours when he’s so detestable and unlikable? I found that a difficult concept to wrap my head around.
As a thriller, Nightcrawler works brilliantly. As a satire of media, it struggles; incredibly stubborn in the point it’s trying to make, Nightcrawler flounders due to the fact that the character epitomises everything wrong with the media’s lust for news is so inhumane, detracting from the film’s argument.
Yet despite Nightcrawler’s failures, it hardly burdens a fantastically-crafted story with a terrific performance from Gyllenhaal and a gripping finale that serves as one of the year’s best scenes. It may enforce its points a little too strongly, but the film is nevertheless an exciting, enjoyable flick that gives great momentum to both Gyllenhaal’s and its director, Dan Gilroy’s careers.
– Gus Edgar