Writer-Director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a sad commentary on today’s society and its obsession with sensationalist news. Driven by an Oscar-worthy performance by star Jake Gyllenhaal, it’s also one of the darkest, best films of the year.
Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a hustler and a thief with a skewed go-getter attitude looking for work in Los Angeles. He stumbles upon the profession of “nightcrawling,” which refers to freelance cameramen who film local crime and accident victims in the wee hours and then sell the footage to the local news stations. Lou has a good eye and isn’t above bending some rules and laws to get what he needs. He hooks up with a news chief, Nina (Rene Russo), who is desperate for ratings and will do anything to get them. Together, Nina and Lou make a great team, but Lou will sink to any depths to get what he feels is owed to him. He shows little concern for the welfare of his partner, Rick (Riz Ahmed), and develops a dangerous rivalry with another nightcrawler, Joe (Bill Paxton). However, when Lou witnesses a crime actually being perpetrated, he becomes part of the story and the lines between what’s on TV and real life blur. The audience comes away thinking Lou wouldn’t have it any other way.
What I haven’t conveyed in the plot description above is just how despicable Lou is, because that would be spoiling things. But just know that Lou Bloom might be the most despicable character on film since Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood. He’s also one of the creepiest characters I can remember. One scene where he and Nina go out to dinner is, quite possibly, the most uncomfortable scene I’ve ever seen. So much about this film works, it’s ridiculous. It’s incredibly tension-filled and funny as well. It’s a great dark satire that’s a little slow to get going, but once it does, it can be quite creepy and sinister.
Gyllenhaal is a revelation in this role. He lost a bunch of weight and looks to be completely wired the entire time he plays Lou. He disappears into this role and continues the great work he’s been delivering lately. Just a fantastic performance. Rene Russo is very good as Nina, but she’s also hard to read at times. Part of this is due to Russo’s canny performance, but another part of it is due to my biggest issue with the film, which is that the story is too focused on Lou’s new profession and not enough on the world as a whole. That’s a minor issue, though. Ahmed is very good as Rick. His performance is very natural, making him feel like a real live person dumped into this insane world that Lou creates. That level of realism is raised when you realize that all the news anchors that appear on screen are all playing themselves. It lends a level of authenticity to the film. Paxton is also good in his role as Lou’s foil. I would have liked a little more of him, but I have to say that it was pretty funny how he had basically taken on the Cary Elwes role from Twister. Also, kudos go out to Mad Men’s Kevin Rahm, who plays Nina’s more cautious colleague.
Nightcrawler is one of the best movies of the year. Gyllenhaal has raised his game again and will be in the award season talks. The story is extremely messed up and the lengths that Lou goes to are unbelievable, but it’s definitely a must-see.