★★★★☆ – A dark neo-noir thriller that will keep you glued to your seat for the duration. Whilst the ending can be considered somewhat deflating, it doesn’t detract at all from the darkly captivating two hours that get you there.
In Dan Gilroy’s directional debut, Jake Gyllenhaal steals the screen as the deeply sociopathic Lou Bloom – taking us to the darker side of human nature and through a whirlwind of intense and bloody encounters along the way. Nominated for seemingly endless awards for acting and directing; Nightcrawler is a mind-blowing package of brilliant story-telling, enrapturing character exploration and beautiful, if not morbid, visuals to boot.
Gilroy’s piece is predominantly character driven, with a heavy focus on Gyllenhaal that offers a stark insight into the lonesome, and arguably ‘particular’ life of Lou Bloom. Set in the midnight hours of downtown LA, we begin the film in a privatised industrial zone; the nature of Bloom’s character is introduced through a cunning and disarmingly pleasant confrontation with a security official that snaps suddenly into an attack. It’s soon clear that Bloom is struggling to find his place and a working wage in a world that has consistently spurned him – but rather than giving up, he has retained a strange indifference to the rejection that has surrounded him, and gets by through finding his own means of making money: whether socially accepted or not. By chance, he encounters a car crash (on return from trying to sell off stolen goods from the aforementioned industrial park) and ends up witnessing the media’s emotionally void methods of grabbing ‘sensational’ news. It is here where the main body of the story begins – cameramen on the hunt for the brash and bloody headlines are known as the Nightcrawlers of the city; an unforgiving (yet well paid) profession that matches Bloom’s morally indifferent personality perfectly. A stolen-and-sold race bike later and Bloom is set up with a police scanner and a cheap camera, prepared to face and get in the face of any vicious crime that would provide money-making opportunities.
The tension of the film is indisputable from this point onwards – Gilroy leaves us on the edge of our seat as we’re forced to sit through multiple visions of brutality – accidents, attacks and atrocities being top of the list for the ghouls with cameras that stalk the night. Gyllenhaal is indisputably bewitching as Bloom, expertly walking the fine line of black humour against the unsettling feeling that comes with a character that is so strangely detached from societal norms; providing a sense of anxiety for both where he will take us next and what he will do to secure his position in business. As a thief and a social misfit, he is in no means a likable character for us to follow – though a morbid curiosity begins to emerge as the film progresses and a strange attachment can hardly be denied to him: whilst we don’t want to watch, Gilroy has crafted a narrative and driving character that demand to be engaged with – he tests the very limits of our own comfort and morality in the process.
The one and only falling point that can be attributed to Nightcrawler is the ending. Whilst some may disagree, it can be argued that it feels cut short, possibly robbed of further exploration of the final events that would’ve provided a more fulfilling and satisfying rounding off of the film. With this said however, as a film that doesn’t conform to the Hollywood blockbuster standards through its methods and protagonist it might’ve felt more of a cop out to finish on a note of complete or moral closure; it’s more up to personal reaction than anything else.
Outside of Gyllenhaal’s captivating portrayal of Bloom, Rene Russo as the directed yet vulnerable Nina Romina and Riz Ahmed as every-man Rick contribute to a selection of characters rarely seen and explored in such detail – their interactions with each other sparking complex and intriguing plot points within the narrative. This combined with Gilroy’s use of poignant cinematography creates a thoroughly gripping movie – it has to be said that watching a screen on screen has a startlingly postmodern effect, raising questions of the media-based society we live in alongside the underlying oppression of the working man that is clear from each character we encounter; they’re all struggling in some way. Simultaneously faced-paced in nature and achingly slow in gruesome camera work, this is an outstanding piece of cinema that grips you from the very beginning to the very end in a magnitude of ways. Nightcrawler deserves to be at the very top of your watchlist this month.
Nightcrawler (2014), directed by Dan Gilroy, is released on Blu-ray in the UK by Entertainment One, Certificate 15.
This article was originally posted to The Edge.