Writer: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
Running time: 117mins
The lowdown: Jake Gyllenhaal reminds us again he’s one of Hollywood’s finest thesps with this urban horror comedy. Bug-eyed and sunken cheeked, his Louis Bloom is a deliciously dark creation, crawling LA’s nocturnal streets looking for accidents, crimes or any sensational misery he can capture on camera and flog to Rene Russo’s ratings chasing TV news editor. Psycho chills and sledgehammer satire are glazed with a Michael Mann style neo-noir sheen, and even though others films have driven these mean streets before, Nightcrawler is a bewitching, disturbing, laugh-out-loud success.
The full verdict: Dan Gilroy’s last credit prior to Nightcrawler was franchise ruining The Bourne Legacy, co-written with brother Tony.
Presumably Dan subsequently spent time in the wilderness wrestling his conscience, because he returns with an assured directorial debut. About a man losing his soul as he feeds the mass media machine with mindless images of violence, making vast quantities of cash in the process…
Not that Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom would comfortably fit in any cookie cutter Hollywood blockbuster. First seen trading in stolen goods, Lou emerges as a chilling, fascinating, 21st century bogeyman.
A cinematic descendent of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman and Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, Lou is driven, possessed with a forced jollity, voyeuristic and detached from the people he moves between, weaned on hours of internet self-education. And prowling LA’s streets in a bright red performance car the way De Niro’s Bickle went looking for trouble on the East Coast in his equally garish iconic yellow cab.
Gyllenhaal, doing his best work since Zodiac, plays him perfectly. Shedding between 20 and 30lbs, a gaunt visage accentuating bulbous, rarely blinking eyes, precise and stiff limbed movements emphasising an essentially robotic personality.
But, Nightcrawler is not a coathanger movie upon which to drape a knockout performance. Shooting largely at night, Gilroy (assisted by cinematographer Robert Elswit’s neon, 1 f-stop beyond reality visuals) has an eye for a J.G. Ballard sense of the unnerving. LA is a scary playground of traffic accidents, home invasions and carjackings, where men free of morals glide amongst wreckage and emergency workers to get the best possible shot.
And the director’s script slow burns Lou’s methodically escalating attempts to achieve perfectly composed trauma, allowing for many shift-in-the-seat moments as the anti-hero does a serious discourtesy to journalistic integrity.
The film trips into commonplace in its depiction of an ethically barren and voracious media pushing the envelope of acceptability. Aping the righteous fury of Network, it’s unlikely Nightcrawler will be remembered as such a caustic satire on “infotainment” as that 70s classic. Or Broadcast News for that matter.
The successful satirical swipes hit corporate America straight in the greed gland, encapsulated in Lou’s comic espousing of his “company’s” core values of employee self-improvement while fully embracing the salary-free internship ethos.
Rene Russo (Gilroy’s wife) is superb support as Nina, the professional woman of a certain age in a cutthroat industry, a date with Lou an impeccably played moment of power ebbing and flowing.
Elsehwere, Riz Ahmed is memorably twitchy as Lou’s reluctant assistant and Bill Paxton excellent as ever as a years-in-the-trenches mentor/rival.
As the credits roll, you may be thinking of the line from Nightcrawler’s spiritual grandpappy, Peeping Tom. “All this filming isn’t healthy.”