Review of Nightcrawler by Brent Leibowitz
There is just something about charismatic sociopaths that Hollywood loves. Nightcrawler, released October 31st 2014, offers the newest member to that group in the form of Louis “Lou” Bloom. Chillingly portrayed by Jake Gyllenhal in what has been described by many as his best performance to date, he commands every scene with unhinged charm and sinister drive. Far from the innocent puzzle solver that he portrayed in Zodiac, Gyllenhal is constantly smirking, his bulging eyes giving the impression that he is invading personal space, an activity the character engages in throughout the movie both physically and emotionally. A foil is present in the form of morning news director Nina Romina (played by Rene Russo) and a rival freelance film director (played by the always enjoyable Bill Paxton). However, Bloom’s irresistible charisma and hidden ruthlessness prove that neither pose any threat to his goal of making money through filming and selling the suffering of others. While I initially believed that the film would chart Lou’s descent into insanity, the first scene of the film instantly annihilated that notion. Lou Bloom is a sociopathic pariah of society from the beginning, as shown when he attacks a security guard and steals his watch. Instead, the film charts Bloom taping and selling footage of accidents and crime to a local news channel. Bloom goes extreme lengths to get the most newsworthy shot, eventually arranging scenes to sensationalize them.
While Gyllenhaal’s horrifically captivating performance is the number one attraction of Nightcrawler’s carnival of darkness, the message the film portrays about sensationalism and the media is interesting and unnervingly accurate. Rene Russo’s Nina is shown to have a single minded focus on ratings as seen when she completely lies about a story in order to maximize the story’s impact. Perhaps Lou Bloom best sums up the problem the movie is trying to portray, stating that more time is devoted to crime stories in the local news than transportation, education, and immigration stories combined. This message about the media plays into the film’s general story about a man shooting footage of horrific events who is willing to do anything to get his shot.
Both aforementioned highlights would not have been possible without the superb directing and writing from Dan Gilroy who made his directorial debut with Nightcrawler. Behind the camera, Gilroy is extremely confident in his choices- shown with his intrepid use of tonal shifts from Lou’s usual fascinating charm to his manic drive to film crime scenes. Additionally, Gilroy’s use of LA’s bright lights and colors against the literal and tonal darkness adeptly portrays the sinister underbelly of the city. Speaking of dichotomies, the score by James Newton Howard, who has done the score for The Dark Knight and The Hunger Games amongst others, has triumphant trumpets playing whenever Bloom finds his latest scoop. This gives the illusion that he is like a hero having discovered the object of power and briefly makes you forget what a heartless story-seeking monster he is. It is the combined brilliance of all these elements that allows Nightcrawler to stand out from the multiple thrillers that constantly populate and suffocate movie theaters.
All in all, Nightcrawler is a smart, unique, and thrilling movie with standout performances from the entire cast, especially Jake Gyllenhal. His Lou Bloom is the latest addition to the Hollywood pantheon of sociopaths with a smile and is the highlight of the movie. The only thing more insidious than the character is the fact that you’ll find yourself rooting for Bloom all the way through the movie showing just how his charisma and the appeal of Nightcrawler slithers its way into you, making an extremely intriguing and unforgettable movie going experience.