A film review by Craig J. Koban November 9, 2014

 Rank: #4


2014, R, 117 mins.


Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou  /  Rene Russo as Nina  /  Riz Ahmed as Rick  /  Bill Paxton as Joe

Written and directed by Dan Gilroy

Dan Gilroy’s NIGHTCRAWLER is like a nightmarish cocktail of the most alarming elements of TAXI DRIVER and NETWORK further crossed with the cold and unnerving aesthetic of a Michael Mann.  

Much like Martin Scorsese’s lauded 1976 film, NIGHTCRAWLER is an unflinching and unnerving portrait of a methodical minded sociopath that finds a sick purpose in life while exploring the seedy underbelly of society.  Like Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film, NIGHTCRAWLER exposes the darker underbelly of the news media’s mantra of “If it bleeds, it leads” that drives its sense of purpose beyond more noble-minded endeavors of covering important and relevant news items.  Deep down, through, Gilroy’s film is about perversion and malevolence, when it boils right down to it.  It’s a frighteningly effective film that shockingly echoes our time. 

Gilroy – making a swift and confident directorial debut here – has previously carved out a fairly stellar career as a Hollywood screenwriter (he most famously penned the Jason Bourne films), and in NIGHTCRAWLER he shows an uncommon command over story, characters, and atmosphere.  His film is so deeply intimate in how it provides a close-up view of its maniacal lead character in an almost casual, nonchalant manner.  The movie is not really interested in psychology or thoroughly analyzing the motives of its deranged persona as much as it is just being a fly-on-the-wall observer of how a societal fringe figure and loner manipulates everyone around him in his pursuit of self-actualization and success.  Yet, since this character is tied directly to the world of freelance crime journalism, his deplorable and twisted behavior ties in with the equally appalling manner that the tabloid news has become a daily bloodsport as to which show can put up the highest body count on screen.  There are no real heroes in this film…only victims. 



NIGHTCRAWLER also further establishes star Jake Gyllenhaal as perhaps one of the finest actors working today with the shrewdest taste in film roles (his recent resume, including films like ENEMY, PRISONERS, BROTHERS, and SOURCE CODE, is proof positive of this).  The always-resourceful 33-year-old performer plays Los Angelino Louis Bloom, a petty thief that makes a living stealing whatever he can…or screwing over anyone he can.  When his life of nocturnal crime fails to provide for him, he becomes entranced with the world of video journalism, especially one night when he watches Joe Loder (Bill Paxton, so good in these small, but crucial supporting roles) film a bloody accident, who reveals himself at the scene of a crime to be a freelance videographer that sells his gore-filled highlight reels to the highest media bidder every night.  This intrigues Louis so much that he decides – with what little money he has – to invest in a cheap camcorder and radio scanner to peruse his new occupational goals. 

Predictably, Louis’ early attempts at filming crimes across L.A. are not so much failures as they are mediocre in his handling of them.  Yet, little by little, Louis does manage to capture some exclusive footage that he is able to sell to Nina Romina (a never been better Rene Russo), who’s a news director for one of the lowest rated stations in the city.  Desperate for anything that will save her job and show’s future, Nina buys Louis' footage and forms a semi-professional working relationship with him.  Louis has grander ambitions beyond just selling small-time videos for low payouts; he wants “big game” scores to net more money and more power over his competition.  With more capital coming in, Louis buys a fast sports car tricked out with GPS technology and surveillance gear, as well as hiring an assistant (Riz Ahmed) to help him during his nightly conquests.  Yet, as Louis’ unbridled thirst to usurp Joe as the go-to “nightcrawler” in L.A. becomes unquenchable, he begins to take bigger risks in shooting his footage, which ultimately leads to him breaking the law himself and endanger the lives of innocent people around him. 

Like Nicolas Winding Refn’s DRIVE, L.A. becomes an ominous background creature of visual fascination in NIGHTCRAWLER, and one that seems to feed off of and support the baser instincts of those that reside there.  With virtuoso cinematographer by Robert Elswit, Gilroy paints a portrait of the city that’s ripe with all sorts of seedy activity and unspeakable social horrors at every turn.  The geography of the film is also splendidly varied, as Gilroy gives us an insular look into the chaotic newsrooms populated by desperate producers and directors looking to hit ratings gold while simultaneously showing the L.A. exteriors in all of its neon-noir splendor.  Gilroy, as a film craftsman, knows that the city itself needs to be front and center as a character in NIGHTCRAWLER.  

Gyllenhaal has given so many memorable performances, but none perhaps as creepy and sinister as what he achieves here.  Looking unhealthily emaciated and chillingly beady eyed throughout (he lost 30 pounds to shrink his chiseled frame down to look the part of a man being eaten away by his evil motives), Gyllenhaal’s Louis is one of the most dislikeable characters to emerge from mainstream film in quite some time.  He has no real redeeming qualities, outside of his fearless business drive to achieve what he perceives as success, which is arguably not a commendable trait itself when one consider what Louis does to get to the top.  Yet, despite being a toxic force of indecency, Louis is so soft spoken in his sometimes-verbose declarations that he falsely comes off as civilized and well mannered, which ultimately makes him all the more terrifying as a social predator.  Akin to what Robert De Niro did with Travis Bickle decades ago, Gyllenhaal "becomes" an unforgettably disturbing loose cannon that resorts to shocking means to appease his needs.  He will surely net his second Oscar nomination for his work here. 

Rene Russo’s Nina seems like an odd fit as a pseudo-love interest/business partner for Gyllenhaal’s Louis, but I loved the atypical casting approach here (she’s 28 years Gyllenhaal’s senior), which elevates scenes of their characters butting heads and tirelessly negotiating into mini-ballets of low key and understated eroticism.  Nina also represents another unwholesome layer in the film.  She’s not perversely evil like Louis, to be sure, but she so stridently yearns for unsavory video footage to net her show viewership (“Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”) that she lets her journalistic integrity get buried deep under her unethical pursuit of ratings.  In a way, Louis and Nina are more compatible as lovers than either character probably lets on in the film, and Gilroy is calculating for never really spelling out to viewers the true romantic undercurrent of their business union; he’s brave enough to respect the collective intelligence of audience members to connect the dots and make their own inferences. 

By the time NIGHTCRAWLER careens towards its jaw-droppingly scandalous and bleak final act you can sense Gilroy fastidiously pulling the strings of his pressure cooker of a narrative and main character, showing macabre compulsion and revelry in all of his unspeakably dangerous behavior.   The writer/director shows an unwavering skill for marrying Louis’ homicidal tendencies with the larger theme of how broadcasters salivate for the type of unpleasant material that he peddles to them.  There’s a nihilistic sheen that’s painted over the film through and through in its depiction of societal madness on many fronts.  NIGHTCRAWLER may leave many viewers exiting the cinema – myself included – feeling dirty and requiring a post-screening emotional cleanse, buy there’s no denying that it’s one of the most assured and intoxicating debut efforts by a first-time director that I’ve seen in some time.  

Gilroy’s film will get under your skin and stay there, whether you want it to or not. 

  H O M E