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Review: Nightcrawler

October 31, 2014

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Nightcrawler Poster

“Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,” ruthless news director Nina (Rene Russo) tells budding freelance crime journalist Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Nightcrawler, one of many provocatively relevant observations that the film offers.

There is such exhilarating energy coursing through the veins of director Dan Gilroy’s gripping, disturbing and thought provoking thriller, that the effects of the film continue to linger long after the credits roll.  Arriving in theatres on Halloween, Nightcrawler has all the makings of a modern classic.

Louis is a small time thief who lives alone and makes his money stealing metal and selling it for cash to construction sites.  But when he stumbles upon a gruesome car crash, he discovers the competitive and morally ambiguous underground world of freelance crime journalism, currently dominated by the ambulance chasing videographer Joe Loder (Bill Paxton).

Louis purchases a camera and hires the homeless Rick (Riz Ahmed) as his assistant, driving around the nighttime streets of Los Angeles with a police scanner, filming various emergencies and selling the graphic and unflinching footage to a local TV station.  There he meets Nina, who fuels his obsession in her own hunger for upping the ratings, pushing him further over his already non-existent moral line in order to make the headlines.

Although Nightcrawler is one of the freshest and most original movies of 2014, comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Sydney Lumet’s Network, two of the most iconic and influential films of the 1970s, are not only inevitable but also deserved.  And nearly forty years after Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle declared that “someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets,” and Peter Finch’s Howard Beale announced on national television that “I’m going to blow my brains out right on this program a week from today,” we have another unforgettable representation of our times in Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.

This is a protagonist who can’t be called a hero, but it’s impossible to take our eyes off of him as he becomes increasingly obsessed with getting the perfect shot and pursuing his career no matter what the cost.  Losing twenty pounds for the role, his wide open eyes seeming to pop right out of his skull, Jake Gyllenhaal is simply mesmerizing to watch throughout every scene of Nightcrawler, projecting a chilling coldness behind the intense drive and determination of this character who survives on extreme analytical thinking.  Rene Russo is also excellent, and the subtly creepy dialogue of a restaurant conversation between them crackles with sadistic seduction.

The ingeniously layered screenplay compellingly challenges how we view violence in the media, raising fascinating questions about how even the most horrific crimes can be manipulated by cameras and editing, just to make for more gripping viewing.  Louis is the man with a camera and we are his audience, drawing powerful comparisons between filmmaker and viewer, as well as fiction and reality.  His actions become increasingly calculated and even sociopathic, but everything he does comes from increasingly compulsive attempts to manipulate the truth into what the network sees as a better story.

Blood always brings in viewers, but even more so if the crimes are being committed against the white upper class, not unlike the victims of some of the most popular horror films.  With such biting commentary on society’s increasing tolerance of onscreen violence, there is perhaps a hint of irony to the wicked entertainment that Nightcrawler provides.  This is one of the most tightly constructed movies of 2014, and the last act delivers some of the most gripping scenes of any movie this year, exploding with quiet tension that is perfectly wrought right up to the unforgettable final few scenes.

The mostly nighttime setting adds a disturbing sense of foreboding and atmosphere, matched by James Newton Howard’s haunting musical score.  With intoxicatingly stylish cinematography, a brilliantly written screenplay and a constant sense of palpable suspense, Nightcrawler is a fascinating and shocking thriller that creeps up on you and is impossible to shake afterwards.  Mark my words, see this one before everyone starts talking about it.

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