Review: Nightcrawler

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Jake Gyllenhaal’s newest film Nightcrawler isn’t about a mutant with dark blue skin who can teleport (sorry fan boys). It’s a film about a man’s determination to be LA best crime journalist turning into a dangerous (and lucrative) obsession.

On the surface, Nightcrawler is pretty straightforward:  Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed man willing to anything for to work. After he encounters an accident on the side of the road, he learns local news stations pay money for footage of crime scenes – carjackings, murders, shootings, robberies, fires, and car accidents – the bloodier the footage, the better. After Lou sees his footage on the 6:00AM news, he realizes video journalism is something he’s good at. Really good at. Lou’s values are exactly what you’d expect from someone who prowls the dangerous streets of LA at night – he has no friends and will step on anyone to get what he wants.

Underneath Nightcrawler’s gritty crime aesthetic is an examination of how we cover news. There are a lot of moments in the film to point to but none raise more eyebrows than when Nina (Renee Russo), the Channel 6 station manager, walks the anchors through a gruesome clip. As if the graphic  footage isn’t enough, Nina directs the anchors to repeatedly hammer home every fear imaginable. Every fear seen or unseen on the footage. The constant exploitation of the news and manipulation of the audience has a disturbing realism to it.  It’s like watching a puppeteer direct her puppets and the audience is little kids who believe everything they see at the puppet show.

It will come as little surprise that Jake Gyllenhaal is amazing as Lou Bloom. He’s been on a role since 2012’s surprise hit End of Watch. He’s followed that up playing a hardnosed cop in Prisoners, and a man possibly losing his mind in Enemy. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Lou is a little more restrained. His character doesn’t fly off the handle or even raise his voice. Lou’s a guy who’s self motivated, self educated, and someone who doesn’t play well with others. Gyllenhaal nails Lou’s car salesman charisma that allows him access to people even though he rubs everyone the wrong way.

Gyllenhaal is fantastic in the film’s best scene – Lou’s lunch with Nina. Lou does his best to communicate what he wants from Nina but it’s like he’s an alien who’s never interacted with other people before. The things that come out of his mouth are both appalling and brutally honest.  Gylllenhaal also shines during the constant back-and-forth’s between Lou and his criminally underpaid partner Rick (Riz Ahmed). The two have a few spirited conversations to say the least.

Nightcrawler is every bit the gritty crime thriller I hoped it would be. Gyllenhaal continues to impress by playing fascinating characters in the most interesting ways. I’m fully aware Nightcrawler isn’t the type of film The Academy likes, so I’m doubtful we will see any nominations for Jake or the film. In a perfect world a film this well done and well acted would be recognized.  If Gyllenhaal continues lighting up the big screen like this, he’ll get a statue or two soon. I think he’s going to have a helluva career and it feels like he’s just getting started.

Grade: A-

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