Written and directed by: Dan Gilroy.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal. Rene Russo. Riz Ahmed. Bill Paxton.
Running time: 117 minutes.
Relatively unknown Dan Gilroy is usually mentioned only in relation to his dad Frank D. Gilroy and the shiny pulitzer his dear father won, i’m sure Dan loves that. In order to break the chains of his daddy’s success Dan makes his directoral debut with ‘Nightcrawler’ a film lovingly penned by his own fair hand. The film follows Louis ‘Lou’ Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a young man struggling to find his calling who stumbles upon freelance journalism in the way of recording accidents and selling them to news stations. He then begins a journey to discover and prove his commitment as the line blurs and every shade of grey descends upon his morale compass in the bid to stay ahead and stay relevant. Surely the media will make him a better person right?
The introduction of our main character is interest as we see him struggling financially as he is caught stealing metal from a work site and caught by security. In an unskilled and desperate fashion he attacks the security guard to sell it to a scrapyard owner. The owner haggles him down effortlessly and refuses him a job flat as he “wont hire a thief”. What a prude! This scene is a great representation of our character in many ways, his ease at giving up on the haggling shows his need for money and his eerily good manners even in the face of insults in a strange contrast to the man we just saw attack a guard for some scrap. Also his precise wording of his ‘pitch’ for a job shows not only how often he has made this speech but the cold delivery and self analysis involved in assessing his own strengths hints at some sort of mental condition. Most interestingly of all this is a cold, calculating man who will attack for gain straight off the bat which is refreshing in it’s brutal foundations. This film isn’t us watching the gradually descent of a man into eventually cracking, this is a man who will already do anything and is merely looking for something to channel this dangerous passion towards.
Gyllenhaal is an absolute triumph as Louis Bloom, he’s shown he can do believably edgy in Prisoners where his limited and strategic use of ticks and mannerisms subtly add to his characters depth instead of just plainly defining them. The sterile, clinical politeness puts you on edge, his boundless and often child like enthusiasm sweeps you into believing him and gives him a unique strength. When he reels off fake statistics on a bike you know he stole you fell as if he’s owned it all his life! This man can manipulate and is determined to make his living from it. His smile has motive and his eyes hold an unnerving energy with nowhere to go, as if the pressure of his ambition is building up within him just waiting for a target in life. His solitary affection towards a plant reeks of duty instead of emotion, and i look forward to his custody battle for the plant with Jean Reno’s caharacter Leon… Even when he sees the first accident that inspires him, he doesn’t stop out an instant idea. The idea develops after he stops to watch an accident with no effort at helping, this is when he sees Loder film the event and the rest is a history of obsession.
The support cast is great too. Rene Russo as morning news director Nina, isn’t just your typical ‘career woman’ but gives a unique sense of her commitment to what she does and the tired labour of her past experiences in the media. Bill Paxton is rival freelancer Joe Loder does a brilliant job of being so bad you actually root for the sociopath of Bloom! Throwing out his ignorant dismissals, macho slang and rubbing his small victories in the face of Bloom and somehow the audience simultaneously. Riz Ahmed could be a background prop as Bloom’s assistant Rick but does a little with a lot, he’s shown his acting chops before with ‘Four LIons‘ and ‘Shifty‘ and seizes this opportunity well. Not just a bumbling accessory he convincingly reacts to a bizarre scenario, shifting between commitment, confusion, fear and realistically changing his mind after realising mistakes.
The story itself is clever without being surprising as Bloom rides the montage rollercoaster to become more successful at breaking stories, his cold and detached response his biggest strength. Tampering with the scene of an accident for the perfect frame and shot like some gruesome artist with even a corpse seen by Bloom as simply a prop. Multiple scenes show his lack of empathy as he crosses both emotional and literal barriers to show “bloody” images, The strangest example though is when he moves photos on a fridge around bullet holes for dramatic effect, this displays his understanding on emotions and how to use them but also the lack of their effect on himself. His manipulation of Nina is one of the shudder-filled creepy affairs this side of a David Cameron speech as he convinces her to sleep with him. The word “convinces” has never weighed so heavy on a sentence as he literally ‘logics’ her into submission which is fascinating and disturbing to watch especially when Rene Russo is the husband of the writer himself! His logic is unflinching and oddly indisputable as he wields mutual benefit as mallet ready to bludgeon your protests.
The plot never leans upon a single narrative too much and moves confidently and swiftly enough that some far-fetched aspects aren’t even called into question. Bloom’s withholding of evidence, his sabotage of Loader and his dispatching of Rick could shatter the gritty grounding of such a sinister film but somehow never does. Just like it’s main character the film convinces you that this is right and any lingering questions you may have are irrelevant. The performances are it’s biggest strength but it’s low key, foreboding music builds in energy like a dark ambition and the tension grips you without mercy. A high octane car chase does not feel out of place as Bloom’s energy and his plan finally erupt into a crescendo of drama and success. I still can’t decide whether to despise the man or admire his efforts. The theme of the camera work also gives opportunity for first person shots but thankfully these are used less and to greater effect as you take more note on the gore he focuses on. A slight moan of a dying man he films is moved over quickly and you question if you even hear it until Bloom briefly acknowledges it later. Less is more, and this film is full of the meaningful less!
None of Bloom’s moments are easy to enjoy but merely a marvel to watch. As he films his victory over the terrified expression of Loder it’s hard to decide where the heroes are in this film or if you even want one there. As he attacks his mirror or erupts at Nina demanding she never question what he wants next time they are “alone at her apartment”, here we glimpse the monster inside and we’ve already seen more than enough. Yet we are left so unsure of how to feel about him or what outcome we want. As he beats the police to a gruesome murder and even leaves someone to i was on the edge of my seat and teetering on the edge of my morals as i egg him out of the house before the sirens arrive! Why do i want him to escape? This in itself is a resounding achievement for the film.
The conclusion is apt as effort and focus ultimately breeds success and Bloom has oodles of both. We can’t deny that Louis Bloom deserves his prize and can only wonder where his path will go and whether we would have the stomach to keep watching. He may get his comeuppance as his methods escalate off screen but it’s only fitting we shouldn’t see that to keep our opinions on him ambiguous and even confused. Instead of questioning Bloom’s morals you may find you questioning yourself.
The Verdict: Slow and dark, this may not be to everyone’s taste. If you have any interest in human nature though, than this is the equivalent of a masters degree in humanity condensed into a film. Dark and lingering, you won’t forget it easily.