Release Date: 31 October 2014
Running Time: 117 min
Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed, Michael Hyatt
The streets of Los Angeles aren’t pretty after dark. Car crashes, fires, robberies and murders occur nightly. While the police try to control and investigate the scenes of these tragedies, hovering over their shoulders with cameras in hand are nightcrawlers; freelance crime journalists who race to the site of emergency calls to score footage for the local news. After all, if it bleeds, it leads.
Lou Bloom is an aspiring nightcrawler. A morally bankrupt and nakedly ambitious young man he sees the job as a way of starting a media empire. With a laser like focus he moves his way up the food chain and into ever murkier ethical waters. Blank, unreadable and compassionless, Lou is reminiscent of Scarlett Johansson’s nameless alien in Under the Skin; a counterfeit human trying to pass as real, without really understanding people or how they behave. There’s something vampiric about the behaviour of nightcrawlers – they prowl the streets at night feeding on the misery of others – and Lou’s forceful drive to succeed combined with his utter detachment from others makes him a chilling cinematic presence just as scary as any supernatural monster.
Gyllenhaal is superb in the central role, bringing a dead eyed intensity and restless energy to proceedings. Whippet thin with long, lank hair, Lou is constantly on the go, seemingly never resting and always planning his next move. Every conversation he has is a negotiation, including his flirty ones, as evidenced in a particularly skin crawling interaction he has with Rene Russo’s local news director. The script by Dan Gilroy (who also directs for the first time) is – like its protagonist – tightly coiled and propulsive, but it also leaves a lot of room for Gyllenhaal to work in, resulting in some compelling work that is likely to be a touchstone performance by the actor.
The photography by Paul Thomas Anderson’s regular cinematographer Robert Elswitt is also excellent. When action occurs it’s inventively framed, with chases that have a gritty sense of verisimilitude akin to The French Connection. There’s also a visual sheen to Nightcrawler that’s reminiscent of Michael Mann films like Heat and Collateral. The city of Los Angeles is as important as any supporting character in those films and the same can be said here. Thankfully, the cinematography perfectly captures the light smeared urban sprawl of LA with Elswitt’s use of darkness particularly effective.
With a magnetic central performance and a smartly cynical script, Nightcrawler takes a long hard look at the depths someone is willing to go to succeed and the type of person required to do it. It also questions the role of the media in reporting crime, in an age where its main motivation is audience numbers rather than responsible journalism. It tackles both these issues with equal aplomb, and in Lou Bloom has a truly modern antihero, who is plugged in, switched on and forever seeking the upper hand. Emaciated, bug eyed, utterly ruthless and working the system; the scariest creature stalking cinemas this Halloween has arrived. With a camera.