MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Neo-Noir Thriller/ Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Kevin Rahm, Michael Hyatt, Ann Cusack/Runtime: 117 minutes
I think it’s safe to say dear reader that the slice of cinematic pie which I am reviewing today is one that is quite special. That is because the 2014 thriller Nightcrawler is a slice of cinematic pie that chooses to reveal to all of us, through an intriguing mix of dark comedy, riveting realisticness, and top-notch work on both sides of the camera, the dog eat done world of TV news to say nothing of those who make their living capturing the very riveting, the very bloody, and the very intense footage that the public (as much as we may say otherwise around the dinner table) all have a deep and perverse fascination for and love to see pop up on the news. Yet instead of pointing the finger at the movie goer for their own personal involvement in this consistent displaying of tragedy and calamity as seen in something akin to a movie like “Funny Games,” film helmer Dan Gilroy’s slice of cinematic pie is one that gives off the vibe that it’s more like a modern day companion piece to such classic films as the 1951 Kirk Douglas-starrer “Ace in the Hole,” as well as “Network” from 1976 to some degree in that this slice of cinematic pie really does a riveting job of both painting a dark yet also biting analysis of present day media outlets as well as the conscience-lacking individuals who use both calamities and one another to try and make it in the industry. Yet even though the ever-rising potency seen from this ruthless and ever-changing industry is quite riveting on its own, this slice of cinematic pie is elevated significantly by the truly frightening and incredible work done in this by immensely talented thespian Jake Gyllenhaal. Suffice it to say therefore that when you take Gyllenhaal’s chilling lead performance and add into the mix a riveting narrative, electric work from a trinity of just as gifted co-stars, and top-notch efforts from a fantastic crew behind the camera, what you get is a truly nightmarish yet also thrilling film that I promise you will want to watch time and time again.
The plot is as follows: Nightcrawler tells us the story of a guy by the name of Lou Bloom. Here is a young man who not only has no direction in life, but who is quite ruthless, very off-putting, has little to no people skills whatsoever, and despite possessing a degree of business savvy that is somewhat remarkable really does seem to be who the Miriam-Oxford Webster Dictionary had in mind when they included the word “sociopath”. Yet, for all the ways that life has seemingly passed our intrepid and determined to make his way in the world “hero” up, things are about to change quite drastically for him. A change that incidentally is triggered when Lou comes across the morally questionable career of being a “stringer” following his crossing paths with a short-tempered, foul-mouthed and yet highly passionate member of the industry by the name of Joe Loder when he stops at the scene of a horrific car accident that Loder and his team are filming freelance for the news. Yet despite being given the cold shoulder by Loder, Lou finds himself intrigued and driven to do whatever it takes to make his way into this dog eat dog world to the point that he eventually purchases his own video camera and police scanner so he too can start roaming the streets of L.A. looking for bloody incidents that news stations might be interested in getting footage from. Thus with the assistance of a new aide he eventually hires by the name of Rick whilst also forming a partnership with a TV producer by the name of Nina to whom he can sell exclusively to, we see our driven hero thoroughly and doggedly make his way through this quite exploitative industry until we see that it isn’t long before the line between simply being a bystander and finding ways to actually enhance and even participate in the footage Bloom is able to shoot frighteningly and potentially perilously begin to start getting awfully blurry…..
Now right off the bat I should note that this movie’s director Dan Gilroy, an industry talent whose previous creative endeavors include penning the 4th Bourne movie in 2012, manages to sculpt and craft this slice of cinematic pie with the assertiveness of an old pro in the business. I mean not only is it clear what he wants from his crew on either side of the camera, but he also knows how to make this story feel both relevant yet also give it the bite and slime factor it so desperately needs. It also helps that Gilroy also wrote the film and in so doing gave it a riveting narrative hook in the form of an inside look at how both the news and the average, everyday individual have this incredible and seemingly unhealthy addiction for stories that are graphic, bloody, sensational, or quite frankly all of the above. I mean don’t get me wrong dear reader: the art of making an honest if not blunt and pointed observation in regards to journalism is not a new sandbox for Hollywood to play in. Yet not many of the other movies that have chosen to focus on this particular topic chose to approach it with the degree of sliminess or dark comedy as Gilroy does with this film. Indeed the people in this movie, with the exception of perhaps one, are all fairly lacking in morality and who care more about superficial things like how much money a piece can net them or how big of a boost some footage will give them in terms of ratings respectively. Nowhere in that that though is a care in the world about the people at the heart of these stories, the legitimacy of what is being reported, or heck if any legal statues are being violated while engaged in getting said footage. Rather, they just feel that so long as the footage is visceral, the incident in question happens in a well-off neighborhood, and the footage can truly unnerve the person viewing the news broadcast then honestly by and large anything is fair game at that point and everything else can just take a proverbial backseat. An idea incidentally the film’s helmer is willing to respect and embrace wholeheartedly courtesy of being willing to let this movie go as far as it possibly can with this fairly distinct subject matter. It also doesn’t hurt that this movie is also propelled forward by a truly riveting and engaging score which is vastly made up of electric guitar and other synthesized components that really help unnerve you let alone put you on the edge of your seat as much as anything you are seeing play out before you on screen. Finally I guess I should also point out that although this world the character has chosen to immerse himself in is potentially quite perilous it is also quite vibrant as well. I say that because the work done by this movie’s cinematography department really does have a stylish and alluring sheen to it that is best exemplified by the yellow you see on the streetlights proving to be a wonderful contrast to quite a fair amount of both flashy blue and red on display thus resulting in an incredibly genuine creative palette for the movie to operate with. Thus when you mix all of these distinct elements together you get a film that manages to both reel you in with whilst also pushing you away to such a significant degree that you feel you are watching a slice of cinematic pie that would feel right at home next to the filmography of film helmer Michael Mann with particular regard to 1995’s Heat and 2004’s Collateral in its depiction of this truly iconic locale and those who call her home.
Now I’m not gonna lie: In order for the role of Lou Bloom to work as potently and on the level that it needed to, this is a role that honestly required someone who can excel at playing a character that is an absolute and outright scumbag if not just a pure straight up sociopath. Normally with that in mind, I would honestly say that my first choice would be James Woods. However this movie wasn’t made in the 70s, 80s, or 90s when such a casting choice would have worked so unfortunately it looks like he’s out. Thankfully, this movie instead turned to equally as iconic actor Jake Gyllenhaal and he is just downright magnetic in the lead role of Lou. Indeed Gyllenhaal manages to provide this slice of cinematic pie with a bug-eyed and relentless intensity that never once runs the risk of fading. Yes the character of Lou may be left trying to stay one step ahead at certain points throughout this movie, but I can promise you that is most assuredly not the case with the work done in this by Gyllenhaal. Indeed equal parts fairly balanced and low-key, we also see that Gyllenhaal’s execution of this particular character is fairly relentless and creepy in that you get the vibe watching this character that at any moment he could have a complete and utter psychotic break and God help anyone in his immediate vicinity when that occurs. Yet remarkably for as much of a ticking time bomb that the character is, Gyllenhaal’s portrayal is not only (with the exception of one significant moment) deceptively calm, but he also is aware that he knows just where exactly he plans to take the character as well as possessing full confidence that the creative team behind the camera will be able to take his performance and make it work alongside the rest of the taut and engaging movie. Alongside the downright electrifying work done in this by Gyllenhaal, we also see that the movie gives us a trinity of co-starring roles that are also top-notch. Indeed in the role of veteran news producer Nina, we get wonderful work from talented actress Rene Russo in the role of a woman who, yes has seen more than her fair share of grisly content during her time at her chosen profession, but she still has some degree of integrity and values about her. Yet through her ever-evolving and growing professional relationship with Lou we see this woman find what little values she has remaining falling prey to a suave yet also downright menacing and creepy sociopath who quickly starts making her make choices that even she could never have foreseen herself making in the name of giving her station the edge in terms of both content and ratings. Suffice it to say then that Russo does a wonderful job at really playing this plunge down this violence-fueled rabbit hole for all its worth. We also get wonderful work in this from Riz Ahmed in the role of Lou’s “intern”/ “assistant” Rick. Yes by and large this does seem like a fairly one dimensional role that anyone could play, but Ahmed brings a wonderful blend of both innocence and ever-increasing horror in regards to both what he sees as well as what his “employer” is capable of that really does enable him to play off Gyllenhaal’s wonderfully twisted sociopath remarkably well. Finally, I also really love the work done in this by the late yet iconic character actor Bill Paxton as the head of the main rival team which tries to beat Lou and Rick to crime scenes to get footage. No it’s not the biggest part in the world, I’d say about 30-40 minutes of screen time, but Paxton does a wonderful job at portraying this arrogant and smug jerk who, while skilled in his line of work, might want to work on his people skills just a little bit more. That and, without going into spoilers, Paxton does get one heck of an exit from this movie. I mean there are so many ways they could have had him exit the film, but the way they did really does show not only the unrelenting and brutal nature of the movie itself, but that this film has no desire to pull any punches whatsoever.
All in all I think I can say with quite a bit of certainty dear reader that the 2014 slice of cinematic pie that is Nightcrawler is one that is just as terrifying and thrilling as it is riveting and intriguing with the work done performance-wise by lead actor Jake Gyllenhaal and his trio of co-stars being no less than downright phenomenal. Indeed it is not that often that we see a concentrated character analysis in the vein of this one prove to be so riveting, so visceral, and so oddly alluring, but make no mistake this movie may be those things, but if there is one thing it most assuredly is not it would have to be run of the mill and to think otherwise would be quite the mistake. Suffice it to say therefore dear reader that Nightcrawler at the end of the day really truly is an intense, edge of your seat thrill ride that hooks you in right from the word go and is one movie that you definitely owe it to yourself to check out. I promise you won’t regret it. On a scale of 1-5 I give Nightcrawler a solid 4 out of 5.