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Nightcrawler Movie Review

Nightcrawler (2014) movie poster Nightcrawler

Theatrical Release: October 31, 2014 / Running Time: 117 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (Louis Bloom), Rene Russo (Nina Romina), Riz Ahmed (Rick), Bill Paxton (Joe Loder), Kevin Rahm (Frank Cruse), Ann Cusack (Linda), Michael Hyatt (Detective Fronteiri), Price Carson (Detective Lieberman), Kent Shocknek (Kent Shocknek), Sharon Tay (Sharon Tay)


Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a petty L.A. thief in need of employment. A construction company that will buy some of his stolen materials at cut cost won't hire him. Lou is more intrigued by what he witnesses at the scene of a traffic accident: two men with cameras swooping in for some close footage of the deadly wreck.
They won't hire Lou either, so he steals an expensive bike and sells it to a pawn shop from which he buys a police scanner and a camcorder.

Those tools are all he needs to start a career as a freelance TV stringer. Lou walks into a station and impresses veteran news producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo) with his footage. She buys his video and gives him some pointers on what he can do better. He upgrades his equipment and hires Rick (Riz Ahmed), a homeless high school dropout who has never held down a steady job. Lou reluctantly describes the position as an internship, though he agrees to pay Rick $30 a night for his co-piloting and secondary camerawork.

Lou improves with experience. Soon, he's beating veteran Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) to crime scenes and commanding five-figure payouts from Nina's last-place early morning broadcast. The socially awkward stringer displays increasing pride and passion in his overnight escapades, which rise in stature to a deadly home invasion he documents before police arrival with exclusive footage from inside the house. Suddenly, Lou is asking for even bigger paydays and expanded creative control, while police are looking into the legality of his intrusive efforts.

"Nightcrawler" stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a man who videotapes local crime scenes.

Nightcrawler is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, a veteran scribe of films like Real Steel and The Bourne Legacy and the younger brother of Bourne fixture and Academy Award-nominated Michael Clayton writer-director Tony Gilroy. It is a competent first feature which grips you with its atmospheric material. There's a certain allure to crime and tragedy which allows you to appreciate Lou's interest in documenting it for an increasingly comfortable living. At the same time, such a job prohibits sensitivity, a trait Lou is conspicuously lacking.

Almost every recent online mention of Nightcrawler has likened Gyllenhaal's bold lead performance to that of Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. It's an understandable comparison to make because like Bickle, Lou Bloom is awake at night and an observer of the seedy underside of one of the world's biggest American metropolises. Lou similarly is a loner, one with no real idea how to communicate an interest in the opposite sex (he basically hits on Nina with a series of negotiations over margaritas at a Mexican restaurant dinner she has agreed to as a professional courtesy). Lou's no war veteran, but he is becoming more hardened and unhinged with every night he spends exposed to tragedy he films for profit.

Gilroy's script slips some commentary in regarding the sensationalistic nature of network television news broadcasts, which spend a disproportionate amount of time (and, apparently, money) on grisly stories too fear-inducing for the public to ignore. The commentary comes to hinder what is a juicy and fascinating character study in the utterly unsatisfying final twenty minutes or so, which are determined to illustrate just how monstrous Lou and the system that employs him have become. After side-stepping a number of plausibility issues (like speeding from a murder scene right in front of the arriving police without attracting any suspicion), Nightcrawler tries to combat them with climactic conflict. The final act is highly problematic and sour enough to undermine the often engaging material that has comprised the film's first hour and a half.

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) increasingly commands more money and acknowledgement from news producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo).

Gyllenhaal has generated just enough buzz to qualify him as a dark horse for the forthcoming Best Actor award races. The young veteran has consistently picked good projects and drawn good reviews while not earning a slew of significant accolades since his somewhat widely nominated supporting turn in Brokeback Mountain. Here, while also taking his second producer credit, Gyllenhaal sinks his teeth into a flashy lead role. It is a transformative part, the actor having lost 20 pounds to play it. And it is a complex character; Lou is humorously eccentric yet decidedly unsettling and seemingly capable of unethical perversion.
It seems fair to say that Gyllenhaal channels certain qualities of vintage De Niro acting. There isn't just Bickle but a bit of Max Cady in Lou. And yet, such comparisons do Gyllenhaal no favors. To even invoke such time test-withstanding performances is like mentioning Beethoven as to compliment a composer. You might mean well, but no one can live up to such weighty claims. No matter how much Gyllenhaal gives of himself to the role, the film represents a step down from the actor's thematically similar but richer and more substantial previous crime films, like Zodiac and Prisoners.

At least until that troubling final act, Gyllenhaal does a good job of carrying the film. The screenplay is a bit muddled and not as sharp as you'd like. The supporting cast is mostly non-existent, save for Russo and the unknown Ahmed who performs admirably in a number of the movie's not always great scenes of levity.

Between the exquisite photography of Los Angeles by Paul Thomas Anderson cinematography Robert Elswit and the potent depiction of bottom-feeding, Nightcrawler grabs your attention. It tightens its grip and speeds your pulse, generating suspense with the establishment of a big high-stakes climax. And then it disappoints, wanting to have its cake and eat it too with a ludicrous, cynical ending that doesn't stand up to scrutiny or sit well with you.

Related Reviews:
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Jake Gyllenhaal: Prisoners Zodiac Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time | Rene Russo: Ransom Thor
Bill Paxton: Edge of Tomorrow Titanic | Written by Dan Gilroy: Real Steel
Drive Salvador Broadcast News Ace in the Hole The Master Gambit

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Reviewed October 31, 2014.

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