By Jack Rico
The “1-4-0″: As someone who worked in a newsroom for close to 10 years, I can tell you that director/screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s dark and twisted crime journalism film, Nightcrawler, walks a fine line that borders on farcical. Despite a terrific performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and an interesting premise, the film’s gloomy and gritty approach only accomplishes a glimpse of the truth of how that field of the TV newsroom operates.
The Gist: It is nighttime in the shadiest corners of Los Angeles. Our deeply strange protagonist, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a desperate man looking for work who pawns off stolen fences, wires and any petty items in return for cash. On a random night out while driving, he discovers the macabre profession of camera stringers, those who videotape and sell shocking and disturbing images to local newscasts. This young man with hollow eyes and pallid face is about to embark us on an extraordinary and morbid story that is both warped and mesmerizing.
What Works: In spite of some of my displeasures with the story, Gilroy’s filmmaking skills are to be admired. He produces a well paced, efficient film where no scenes are really wasted. Every sequence pushes the story forward leading to a final third act that is a jolt to the system. Actually, it might be one of the best third act sequences I’ve seen all of 2014. But duly noted is Gyllenhaal’s wonderful performance. As I sat back and watched the movie, I kept recalling images from a couple of motion pictures that reminded me of him such as Brad Anderson’s The Machinist starring Christian Bale for his noticeable weight loss and Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear for his sociopathic characteristics. I mean heck, I even evoked Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream for its mood and physicality.
What Doesn’t Work: Nightcrawler is an uncomfortable watch; it’s not an enjoyable movie. There are so many elements that contribute to this such as the somber atmosphere created by cinematographer Robert Elswit, the tense and unwelcoming orchestral score by James Newton Howard, Gyllenhaal’s creepy eloquence and unsettling physical appearance (he lost a sizable amount of body weight by biking and eating kale salads) and just the explicit nature of some of the visuals alone can make you scamper out of the theater. But what completely threw me off was how contrived the scenarios became for Gyllenhaal’s character. Everything just seemed to conveniently fall into place for him and I didn’t buy it.
Pay or Nay? As you can see, I’m mixed about this movie, yet I recommend you seeing it. Released on October 31st, this thriller doesn’t embody the typical traits of a Halloween movie, but it gives us a dose of the unexpected. Gilroy has gone on record stating that there is no subtextual messages to be told or found in his film, but I disagree. It is clear to me that there are two messages: one, how we, the television viewer, are part of the problem that subconsciously propagates sensationalist newscasts and enables the nightcrawler profession, and two, the success story of people who seem to have a knack for finding a paying job even in the dingiest of places. Whatever Gilroy set out to do in Nightcrawler, I’m not sure if he achieved it, but what I got out of it was a trick and a treat.
Rated: R for violence including graphic images, and for language
Release Date: October 31st, 2014
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy
Director(s): Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Distributor: Open Road Films
Film Genre: Thriller