It’s always interesting when films portray the media, an outlet they use constantly, whether purposefully or by accident. It’s no secret that, while the local news is out there to inform us of what’s going on in the world today (at their own discretion), they’re also desperate for ratings much like the rest of the television industry. Whether you love or hate the news, they’re influential whether we care to admit it or not. Director Dan Gilroy really sinks his teeth into Nightcrawler, with Jake Gyllenhaal managing to again prove that he’s definitely a fantastic choice for a lead.
With the dark comes a lot of scary things. Carjackings, break-ins, bloody murders, and city dwellers who lurk in the shadows. Basically, all the things the news loves hyping up. With the Los Angeles crime rate going down, the news stations are more focused on delivering whatever gruesome story they can get their hands on. “If it bleeds, it leads” is the motto of news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo). She’s concerned with getting the scoop on all the awful things happening from the urban side of the street, choosing to focus more on the “upper class” because if a hijacking happens in Compton, “that’s not news”. Welcome to the world of news broadcasting, ladies and gentleman. Please note the sarcasm.
Nina is, however, only a sideline step to success for Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a thief and sociopath, who takes a sudden job interest in nightcrawling after coming across a police scene and watching Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) record footage of it to sell to local news stations. Because that’s pretty much what nightcrawling is, using police scanners to race to the scene of the crime in hopes to get footage of it. Starting off as an amateur, and hiring a homeless and desperate-for-a-job assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed), Lou becomes the best of the best, but uses his uncaring, manipulative, and threatening nature to acquire footage that goes far beyond any ethical, moral, or legal code.
The film sets its mood immediately, solid but with the edges of darkness creeping in, much like Lou Bloom himself. The tone of the film is a bit ironic, Gilroy really using his script to compare Gyllenhaal’s sociopath character to that of the world of broadcast news. The desperation for ratings shunning all kinds of ethical questions, and the need for Bloom to stay on top of his game leading him do highly questionable and awful things.
Gilroy isn’t particularly subtle in his message, nor is he subtle in portraying Gyllenhaal as a weird and socially awkward person who immediately reveals his dark side, but acts like nothing is out of the ordinary. It’s exceptionally creepy because he comes off as so unremarkable to most everyone, just a nice guy who’s just very dedicated to his job. The inclusion of his sociopath character gives the film more edge, a fresh thrill, and creates a highly creepy factor that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
Bill Paxton’s role is small but pivotal, and Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed are both solid in their roles, proving easy targets to the manipulation of Gyllenhaal’s character. The movie is paced well and while it doesn’t pretend to be subtle, Gilroy uses the plot to his advantage and really gives us a memorable character, questions the media and easily allows his film to be gritty and visceral. There’s a lot of camera holding by the characters, but Gilroy shies away from using any kind of shaky cam effect, which is more effective since his shots are more focused and framed in a way to make Gyllenhaal look dangerous even when he’s innocently holding a camera. The character blurs the line between storyteller and participant and, in a way, becomes the story himself. It’s all very clever when you think about it.
In a season filled to the brim with films competing for awards gold, Nightcrawler will stand on its own merits for being highly original, edgy, and not afraid to cross boundaries. Gyllenhaal shines in his role and if you haven’t realized he is a good actor by now, then this movie will certainly solidify your opinion. The film title might throw people off into thinking it’s about the X-Men character, and in a way, the comic book character and Lou Bloom have one thing in common: they both hide in plain sight. Director Dan Gilroy gives us the broadcast news world in a way that is much darker than they’re usually portrayed. Paired with an insane character and great cinematography, the film is a very refreshing take with fantastic results.