Tense, Engrossing, and Surprisingly Comic: A Review of Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler


The Film: Nightcrawler
Director: Dan Gilroy
Primary Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
U.S. Release Date: 31 October 2014

The Premise
Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a lean and enthralling thriller that tells the story of Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) as he does whatever it takes to get what he wants.

Lou lives in L.A. He wants a job. He does not have one. He’s a thief. He does not deny it. He’s a loner. He’s strange. He’s determined to a fault. One night, Lou watches as two men (one of whom is played by Paxton) film as a woman is rescued from a fiery car crash. These men are “nightcrawlers”; they film crime and sell the footage to T.V. news. Upon learning these facts, Lou decides to become one of them, and so he does. His operation starts small, but he figures things out, and soon enough, he is making a good deal of money and is gaining a certain amount of power and recognition in the process. Along the way, he develops a rather complicated working relationship with local news director Nina Romina (Russo). He also hires (and unabashedly takes advantage of) an “intern,” Rick (Ahmed), who accompanies him on his night rides listening to the police radio and hoping desperately to be the first to arrive on a bloody scene that will drive Nina’s ratings.

Nightcrawler or Thriller Meets Dark Comedy Meets Character Study
Nightcrawler is a thriller, but it’s more than that. It doesn’t rely on cheap plot twists nor are acts of violence or betrayal its real interests. With its nocturnal setting and its fair share of suspense, Nightcrawler is certainly a tense film. That said, it’s more noir than action, and it’s also not afraid to crack a few jokes.

I was genuinely surprised by how many times I laughed while watching Nightcrawler. At points, the film is downright hilarious. That said, it is dark and unsettling in its comedy, and those moments in which audiences find themselves smiling are also some of the film’s most memorable for being downright disturbing. That nearly all of the film’s comedic moments rely on something Lou has said or is saying is important. Lou is no ordinary man. He may appear harmless, but he is not. He seems to have no concern for others at all. He has internalized the lie that is the ‘American Dream'(of the man who works hard and therefore deserves and will have everything) so deeply, that he doesn’t have a drop of empathy left in him. He is manipulative, he is liar, and he is so twisted that you have no choice but to chuckle. By the end of the film, one can’t help but be repulsed by Lou; but one is also forced to acknowledge that as far as he and the business course he took online are concerned, his is a story of American success.

All Hail Yillenhoolahay

There are touches of satire and cutting cynicism sprinkled throughout Nightcrawler. Certainly, the film does not portray television news or the culture that watches that news in a positive light. Still, the film is far more concerned with presenting Lou as an object of interest than it is in hitting viewers over the head with some moral epiphany; considering how well-written Lou is as well as how magnificently Gyllenhaal portrays him, this is definitely a good thing.

Louis Bloom is terrifying, and Gyllenhaal brings him to life in an unforgettable and fully realized manner. In some ways, he’s like a strange combination of Patrick Bateman and Frank T.J. Mackey (and the results of such a combination are quite twisted indeed). This man spouts optimistic aphorisms in a way that makes the skin crawl. He horrifies while sounding pleasant and reasonable, and he leaves one with gnawing feeling that he is capable of far more terrible things than he ever reveals.

This man does not blink. He’s a camera that does not shut off, he’s a man always searching for his next gory shot. With Lou’s sunken face and slicked back hair, the power of his empty, hungry, and hauntingly blank gaze is impossible to ignore. Lou has no problem using and devouring people, whether he does so with his camera (read: eyes) or through some other means, makes no real difference.

Loose Ends
Russo and Ahmed also do a fine job in their roles, though Nightcrawler is most certainly Gyllenhaal’s show.

Also, it would be somewhat of a crime to review Nightcrawler without mentioning Robert Elswit’s work. His cinematography plays a palpable role in the film’s success. The cinematography is dark, it’s moody. It’s at once so slick that it could only be a Hollywood movie and so real that after watching Nightcrawler, I’d almost swear that I’d spent more than a few nights in L.A. (when in truth, I’ve never been further west than Albuquerque). There’s very little light in this film besides that of the nightcrawler’s camera, which is certainly appropriate. After all, for Lou, anything not worth filming isn’t worth seeing.

Weak Spots
Nightcrawler is a good, solid, and worthwhile film. Of course, it isn’t perfect. Personally, I would have liked it if the film took both its satire (which really is quite tame) and its humor just a bit further. Doing so may have rendered it less palatable to some, but I can’t help feeling that Nightcrawler is just a touch more restrained than it should be. In that sense, the film is not unlike Lou himself; he only completely loses his cool once, and he is alone when he does so. This moment (in which he screams into a mirror and breaks it) gives viewers their first clear and undeniable glimpse of the fury, the violence, and the evil within him. For a moment, Lou does not hold himself back in any way, but Nightcrawler itself never goes quite as far.

There are also a number of moments (most of which are early in the film) in which the soundtrack grows strangely pleasant and upbeat. In these moments, there is a clear discord between the music the viewer hears and the actions, people, and conversations portrayed on screen. I appreciate the effect these moments were trying to achieve, but I do not think they succeed. I might be alone on this, but I don’t think that the strangely pleasant music ends up sounding clever, satiric, or creepy (as is does throughout Gone Girl for instance), though that was probably the intention; rather, it just feels out of place. I’m getting nitpicky, here, I know.

Until Next Time
Thanks so much for reading. If you haven’t seen Nightcrawler yet, I certainly recommend it. The film probably won’t change your life for the rest of eternity, but it is engrossing, throught provoking, and more than entertaining. Gyllenhaal’s performance alone is worth the price of admission, but it is certainly not the film’s only merit. With its fresh and smartly written script, and with it’s slick and dark cinematography, Nightcrawler is a considerably better than average film that most certainly set’s itself apart from the ‘standard crime thriller’ pack.

If you enjoyed this review or have questions for me, don’t forget to leave a comment below.

p.s. Why is it that every film I watch that is set in L.A. seems determined on convincing me never to set foot there? Between Nightcrawler and Drive, I’m pretty sure I would never be able to spend a night in that city. Oh well.

5 thoughts on “Tense, Engrossing, and Surprisingly Comic: A Review of Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler

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