Jake Gyllenhaal has become one of the most interesting actors working today. His last couple of films have seen him embody complicated, haunted and intriguing characters from his Detective Loki in Prisoners to his double-performance in Enemy. In Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom a thief in L.A. struggling to make ends meet and realizing he needs a much more lucrative job. One night he stumbles into a burning car and as the police drag the body out of the car, two man with cameras come and record the event. It turns out that if you shoot footage of accidents or crimes, news station will pay a hefty sum for them and so Lou Bloom enters the highly competitive freelance world of crime journalism.
Los Angeles is one of those settings that has been repeatedly featured in film for decades. As a result, the city feels familiar and very few films are able to capture or show different sides of it. Nightcrawler is one of those few films. In fact Nightcrawler not only gives an L.A. unlike we’ve seen before, but it also centres around a subject matter not previously examined in film. Without spoiling too much, Lou Bloom is basically making money out of filming the most gruesome accidents or crimes. It’s graphic and disturbing at times, and as the his competition increases Bloom devices new ways of coming out on top. The film plays with the concept of ethics and in the process reveals the unsettling and exploitative nature of the news. Because news stations or channels’ rely on ratings to stay afloat, they are constantly competing against each other and what brings in the viewers is violence. Shock, graphic violence and the spread of fear are what maintain high ratings. Most of the characters in this film work in service of that and as such they are increasingly unsympathetic. However, it is a testament to the writing and the performances that even with all these ugliness you are utterly enthralled by the film.
The supporting cast in this film is effective, especially Rene Russo. She plays the woman in charge of structuring the news reports and decide which story leads. However, she and everyone else is overshadowed with tremendous ease by Jake Gyllenhaal's powerhouse performance. Much like the originality of the film, Gyllenhaal performance is unlike anything else he has done prior. Here we have a severely unsympathetic character who is selfish, manipulative, deceptive and will literally go to any lengths to get what he wants. There is a ruthlessness in him, an overwhelming confidence that is both off-putting yet alluring. The character of Lou Bloom on paper is absolutely despicable and yet Gyllenhaal is able to instil in him a degree of charm, charisma and likability that makes you root for him. This is a bold, unwavering performance that relishes in going darker and more provocative. Moreover, this an against-type of performance that is not even remotely concerned with finding redemption. Lou Bloom is an ugly person, but thanks to Gyllenhaal commitment to the role we enjoy seeing him go to some seriously messed up extremes. Gyllenhaal’s physicality and fast-talking mannerisms also aid the performance to such an extent that his actor persona is rapidly erased. I have never seen him embody a character so completely. This is the type of performance you want to revisit time and time again.
This film is the directorial debut of writer Dan Gilroy (The Fall, The Bourne Legacy) and it is one of the best feature film debuts I’ve ever seen. Much like in the character of Lou Bloom, there is a palpable confidence and focus in Gilroy’s direction. During the Q&A at TIFF, Gilroy spoke about his love of L.A. and you can see that admiration in the film. Even the iconic or more familiar L.A. settings look different in this film, it is as if Dan Gilroy was able to place the camera at an unfamiliar yet intriguing angle. The setting feels alive, dangerous and inviting. Gilroy also wrote the script for the film and his handle on story is exemplary. He establishes a rhythm to the story and as it develops it bravely goes places you don’t expect. Nightcrawler is a film that never loses its momentum, instead everything gets heighten as it moves forward. His character feel real too and he smartly populates his film with complicated and contrasting characters. It helps ground the proceedings.
Nightcrawler is bold, unsettling and darkly funny film. Dan Gilroy successfully provides us with a film that knows exactly what it is and is not trying to emulate anything else. Tone-wise the film is a roller-coaster that somehow manages to find a great balance between unsettling you and then making you laugh. It is ridiculous at times but in a plausible manner. Jake Gyllenhaal, who delivered career high performances in his last two films, surpasses himself once again with this riveting, original, unsympathetic and incredibly awesome performance. He walks all over everyone in this film with a smile and it is absolutely fantastic to behold. This is the kind of brave and against-type performance that demands to be seen, that demands to be praised. Everyone in the screening was practically frothing from the mouth out of excitement for Gyllenhaal’s performance. I will be very surprised and disappointed if he does not enter the conversation for an Oscar in the Best Actor category. Nightcrawler is a daring film that is not trying to cloud the current reality North American media. The news perpetuate fear and glorify violence over everything else, and a lot of people are making a lot of money out of that exploitation. Nightcrawler does not provide us with solutions to these social problems, but it does successfully make us think about them which is more than the actual news do.