DIR/WRI: Dan Gilroy • PRO: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak • DOP: Robert Elswit • ED: John Gilroy • DES: Kevin Kavanaugh • MUS: James Newton Howard • CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Nightcrawler is a despicable underdog story, a deluded and hazy, trance-like dream that glides through the fluorescent streets of Los Angeles. It has a kind of sister kinship to the works of Paul Schrader in the ’70s and ’80s. It’s as if writer/director Dan Gilroy sucked out whatever dark juices there were pumping through Schrader’s brain, gargled, and spat out onto the big screen.
Similar to Schrader’s Taxi Driver (1976), the city plays a character, this time round its L.A., shot wonderfully by P.T. Anderson collaborator Robert Elswit. We also have a social outcast for the lead character, Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal in an exuberant performance. He plays Lou Bloom as a more socially apt Travis Bickle, cheeks sunken and eyes within an inch of popping out onto the audience’s lap. Gyllenhaal is magnetic here. Bloom is either carrying an anti-social or sociopath disorder, while performing reprehensible duties as an immoral freelance crime journalist, working by night and watering plants by day. However, even while possessing these unsavory qualities, we can’t help but admire him.
He’s charming, dedicated and determined to pursue his career path by any mean necessary. On the surface he is exactly what any mother could ask for – polite, confident, continuously speaking in a frank and honest tone. His pattern of speech is almost lyrical, easy to fathom and encourages one to succumb to his charm. Lou Bloom feels like a hybrid of various Hollywood characters: Travis Bickle, Norman Bates or Jim Carrey’s “Cable Guy”. In many ways he’s a sweetheart, but bubbling under his exterior is a demented, anti-social monster ready to pop at the drop of a pin.
As we follow Bloom’s nocturnal pattern we could easily compare him to a hawk scoping out his prey through the neon passages of Los Angeles. When he discovers his new hobby in crime journalism, he watches, learns and adapts to its seedy culture and thrives in it, not before we get to see a few slip-ups on his first outings, like the dullness of a Breathalyzer test or his clumsy camera skills. His instinct and lust for gore are what propel him into the media industry and into the presence of local television editor, Nina (Rene Russ), who is just as cutthroat as he is. Her character is a definite nod to Paddy Chayefsky’s Network (1976) and Faye Dunaway’s character, Diana Christensen. She encourages him to bring footage of urban crimes seeping into the wealthy suburbs. As proclaimed by Bloom’s nemesis freelance contemporary “if it bleeds, it leads”, and this is the code of this underground culture.
Aside, from Gyllenhaal’s intensity, Dan Gilroy still continues to keep us on the edges of our seats by staging marvelous action sequences with high-speed car chases through the night and extremely realistic gun shootouts all to the pleasure and excitement of Lou Bloom. For a directing debut, Mr. Gilroy has really outdone himself proving that he has the skill and audacity of a writer/director and I certainly hope to see more of him behind the camera.
Unlike Network, there is no definitive opposition to the exploitive and immoral manners of Lou and Nina’s work, except for us, the viewers. This film isn’t a full-blown satire of the media as Chayefsky’s work, but is a character study of the life of a crime journalist. It’s dark, it’s twisted and it’s very funny. And it also get’s the point across that this form of media can be immoral, but without ramming it down our throats and leaving a sour taste in our mouths.
Nightcrawler certainly borrows much of its themes and tone from previous movies such as Network, Taxi Driver, Peeping Tom, Drive, but Gilroy recycles those ideas and places them in a contemporary setting and allows us to examine one of society’s more questionable career paths, while also taking a glimpse at our human nature in relation to crime and violence.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Nightcrawler is released 31st October 2014
Nightcrawler – Official Website