Review: Dan Gilroy's 'Nightcrawler' a Creative, Clever & Creepy Thriller
by Jeremy Kirk
October 31, 2014
Beyond the glitz and glamour, there's a darkness surrounding Los Angeles that captivates moviegoers when it's presented in film. Writer/director Dan Gilroy understands this and realizes the darkness in its truest form with Nightcrawler, a crime drama that not only dishes on the grimiest of LA grime, but revels in it. With equal parts style, wit, and discomfort - the latter getting the slight edge, especially given the scuzzy-above-all-else performance from Jake Gyllenhaal - the film wallops the viewer's senses and expectations, a hint of satire pushing it well into the forefront of modern crime drama conversations, making it shine.
Gilroy's lead character, Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal), is a down-on-his-luck actor making his way through LA's dingy streets. When the film begins he's a common thief, stealing and then selling items like copper wiring and chain-link fencing. He scrounges for what little he can get despite his very clear ambition and ability to work. Bloom talks a good game, his actions giving everyone with which he comes in contact a very clear reading on the murky goings-on inside his head. Spend much time with him and you're bound to notice how high his creep meter pings.
Bloom's life changes one night when he comes across a crime scene and, more importantly, a team of freelance reporters catching the entire scene on camera. From the moment he's introduced to nightcrawling, Bloom is hooked, going at great risks to his safety to capture the "good stuff." As the modern-day, journalistic ethic goes, "If it bleeds, it leads," and aided by a desperate morning TV news veteran (Rene Russo) Bloom's work begins and continues to lead.
Any article devoted to the merits of Nightcrawler has to begin first and foremost with the film's own lead. Gyllenhaal is no stranger to turning in dynamite performances, his latest slate of enigmatic characters in Prisoners and Enemy giving us the best work he's done to date. In Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal gives us his very best. The actor avoids any sense of genuine charm with this character, an act made all the more impressive given Bloom's highly optimistic nature. There are moments of real darkness for Bloom in the film, the majority of which are the results of his own actions, and Gyllenhaal never misses the moment to flip that switch. You may be craving more of that darkness from Bloom as you're watching Nightcrawler, but the sporadic pacing and rarity in when Gilroy allows his main character to let the darkness out make those scenes all the more affecting.
That isn't a lead-in to describe Nightcrawler as a slow-burn thriller, either. Gilroy moves his story at a very deliberate pace, peppering the whole package with sardonic wit and that underlying nastiness with which he seems to be washing the city streets. There's much more creepiness to be recognized in Nightcrawler beyond the film's gunky protagonist. Gilroy's depiction of the city and those who choose to work and live there make even the title of the film that much more appropriate, a slithering mass of muscle and tissue pushing its way through the dirt for the next morsel of sustenance. Yeah, sounds like LA.
But Gilroy's film, cynical as it is, never sulks in its own sense of pessimism. On the contrary the writer and first-time director finds a very genuine sense of humor in the ridiculousness of morning TV news. And their journalistic integrity. When Bloom's go-getter attitude begins permeating to those he's working around, Nightcrawler's satire bleeds through strongest. The dryness of the film's satirical sense of humor makes it endlessly watchable even if Gilroy doesn't stick the landing on a fully realized satire. It never reaches the heights of a film like Network, but it has no problems holding its own against contemporary crime-drama cinema.
Supporting performances from Russo, Bill Paxton as the head of a nightcrawling crew, and Riz Ahmed as Rick, Bloom's reliable yet naive intern, flesh the cast out nicely. Ahmed, in particular, does a spectacular job holding his own against Gyllenhaal, every one of his scenes being against the film's lead. Probably the one likable person in Gilroy's film, Ahmed instills a certified feeling of concern for the character. He's the one character who you don't want Bloom's antics to blow back on, and, as predictable as it may be, he's the one character in Nightcrawler who you know it will.
Even the film's predictability in that area could easily be read as calculated by Gilroy and the satire he so very clearly works in. It's the cycle of the dirty stepping on the clean - morally speaking - to reach greater heights, a theme Nightcrawler gives a fresh coat of paint. Creative and clever, the film is a biting look at big city, TV news, the dimly lit and dirty streets of LA becoming the best supporting performers in the film to Gyllenhaal. His performance may outshine the film when history looks back on it, but, for now, Nightcrawler is a solid crime thriller that cuts just a little bit deeper than its counterparts.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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