Nightcrawler‘s Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a guy who never misses an opportunity. When he is caught stealing chain link fencing for scrap metal, he beats up the security guard and steals his watch.
Cruising the streets of Los Angeles one night, he comes across a car crash and sees an independent news crew filming the scene. These people are “Nightcrawlers”, chancers who scour the airwaves for 911 calls and race the emergency services to the scene of the crisis. Any gruesome footage they capture is sold to the TV news networks. Bloom decides that this is the career for him, and pursues it with single-minded zeal.
Nightcrawler is a bold, stylish directorial debut from Dan Gilroy, and along with Paul Thomas Anderson’s sublime Inherent Vice is one of two LA-based neo noirs snubbed by Oscar voters this year. The real crime is that Gyllenhaal has also been overlooked for a Best Actor nomination.
The role of Bloom is perfect for him. Gyllenhaal looks like someone who doesn’t get much sleep or go out in daylight much, and he brings a sense of blank otherwordliness to the character.
Bloom’s face might be smiling, but his eyes are not, constantly calculating the odds and the angles in any given situation. He is one of the most memorable antiheroes of recent years, and part of the film’s illicit thrill is seeing how low and far Bloom is prepared to go. After that opening scene, we know that he will go very low and extremely far, an amoral spider posing as a human, sitting in a web of distress calls ready to scuttle out and claim his reward.
NightcrawlerDirected by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Bloom isn’t physically threatening, but is such a creepy, unsettling presence. He mainly talks in platitutes and buzzwords from self help manuals, as if he’s forgotten how to speak Human. When under threat, he uses gentle passive-aggressive tones, and in a scrape we know that he would have no qualms about a pre-emptive sucker punch.
Gyllenhaal is ably supported by Rene Russo as the ageing, desperate TV director willing to buy Bloom’s gratuitous footage to boost the ratings of her flagging morning news programme. Riz Ahmed is superb as Rick, a young, timid drifter Bloom hires as an assistant when work picks up. Bill Paxton also makes an appearance as a veteran nightcrawler.
Nightcrawler will go down as one of the great LA movies. Through Robert Elswit’s lens, the nocturnal city is a shimmering urban desert. It is the Los Angeles of Michael Mann’s Collateral and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, but also has ancestry in the LA of Raymond Chandler.
On a surface level, this all feels very fresh and modern. I certainly didn’t know what a nightcrawler was, and was both fascinated and repulsed by their business. The tone is assured and nihilistic throughout, from Bloom’s first job pitch to his last masterpiece of reportage, and the film never lets the viewer off the hook.
Yet by the end, I felt like I’d seen it before. I think that’s because the film’s central thesis is very familiar: the media capitalises on the public’s ghoulish appetite for other people’s misfortune by dressing it up as news.
Well, hold the press! People have been telling that story at least since The Front Page back in 1931. I just wish that Gilroy – who also wrote the screenplay – could have found something more original to say about the way news is gathered and consumed. The message and the medium feels old-fashioned already, and may serve to prematurely date this bleak, fascinating, exciting and beautiful movie.
Nightcrawler opens this Thursday (January 29) in major cinemas across the Czech Republic.
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