At the core of Nightcrawler, its clear to see the forefathers that Dan Gilroy studied for his impressive debut as a director. Its core idea of portraying the inherent power of film and how it could be abused is easily linked to Network and Peeping Tom, movies that put forth the question of whether our entertainment with murder and suffering has any limits both by questioning the audience itself and pushing the characters over Ethical Street and way past Mental Breakdown lane. Whereas its character-centered structure and main character’s disregard for social rules/narrow focus on transformation are both reminiscent of Taxi Driver. However, much like with Tarantino’s films, Nightcrawler is still joyously unique without being bogged down by its references and ancestry.
Jake Gyllenhaal has become an indie darling, anchoring films like Prisoners and Enemy with his hard-won star power in order to perform roles that he simply could not have performed during his Prince of Persia days. His role as Louis Bloom requires the sort of trick that very few performers can quite nail, where his dialogue and his mannerisms must be both enrapturing and disgusting. Most importantly, we’re supposed to believe that this slimy man who speaks only in office administration “wisdom” can captivate the people around him. Gyllenhaal is remarkably successful at this wire walk act and he’s probably half the reason the film works so well.
The other half is one of the better scripts of 2014, with zippy dialogue, dark humor and a sense of tone and place that could only come from years of experience. While Dan Gilroy’s work before Nightcrawler is pretty much the work of a gun-for-hire, Nightcrawler suggests a passion for noir and the skills to showcase those passions on the page and the screen without coming across as a fan so much as a student. The script goes in truly unpredictable places thanks to a character who is not easy to pin down and whose ambitions (and the escalation) are both clear and impossible to fully comprehened.
With all of this said, the film has some flaws that need addressing. While Rene Russo is wonderful as Nina, the script’s treatment of her seems to be missing a few beats in order for her final decisions to fully work. And in general, there’s a sense in the second half of characters announcing that Lines Have Been Crossed in blunt ways, which distracts from the fact that watching Louis’ cross those lines is so damn fun in the first place. But those are minor gripes for what is a very remarkable film crackling with life and energy in spite of (or perhaps because of) some its self-indulging cliches, such as the “Mirror Cracking” scene.
The cinematography and the editing deserve mentions here. Nightcrawler looks like snuff stuff, deadly and erotic. Los Angeles is a town that has been obviously portrayed through film as either hell or heaven and everything in between. While Nightcrawler’s cinematography does not go out of its way to do so, it subtly accomplishes a great deal of dread simply by showing the dark side of a city that is often seen as utopia. More than that, the coverage knows how to increase the tension and power of every moment. Scenes like Louis’ coverage of a home invasion are brutal and almost unbearable, thanks to a script that knows where this character is and more than that, thanks to the editing knowing when to switch point of views and makes us question how much are we to relate to Louis in his equalization of filmed violence to pleasure and money.
Admittedly, Nightcrawler’s focus towards satire does not really click. While it’s angle on the perverse pleasure of cinematic violence is more than valid, it’s angle on our daily news coverage seems to be an exaggeration. But after all, this is a movie where the protagonist could be revealed as an alien from outer space trying to adapt to our capitalist society and I don’t think any person in the audience would be really surprised. It’s dealing in exaggerations is a feature rather than a bug.
Overall, Nightcrawler is an impressive debut by already established Hollywood royalty finally finding its place outside of what its expected of them. If Dan Gilroy was to make more movies like these, I think most of us would be thankful.