Nightcrawler

Genre: Drama

Director: Dan Gilroy

Writer: Dan Gilroy

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Running Length: 117 minutes

Synopsis: Nightcrawler is a thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime journalism. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling – where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Rene Russo as Nina, a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.

Review: Jake Gyllenhaal has had an excellent body of work so far, with wide-ranging roles that manage to impress time and again (Enemy, Brokeback Mountain, Jarhead, Prisoners, and many more). However, his performance in Nightcrawler is undoubtedly his best yet, and that says a lot about how good it is – highly deserving of a great run at the awards season next year, and on its own is reason enough to give Nightcrawler a go. While Nightcrawler is not without some flaws, it has a mesmerising central performance around a smart, always engaging film, making it impossible to look away for the entire 2-hour running time. This is the poster child for movies that don’t accord audiences any good moments for a pee break.

The most immediate comparison that one can make to Gyllenhaal’s performance is that of Robert De Niro’s in Taxi Driver – Lou Bloom is as much of an anti-hero as Travis Bickle was, although Bloom definitely has less of a moral compass than Bickle. And it’s an equally transformative, unforgettable performance – Gyllenhaal totally disappears into the role, fully embodifying Bloom not just in his physicality (he lost over 20 pounds of weight for the role) but in every aspect. It’s clear that in Nightcrawler, Bloom is the antagonist, and his soulless eyes, forced smile and ruthless, sociopathic focus on the end game is unyieldingly creepy yet fascinating to observe. This is easily one of the best performances of the year, on par with the mind searing turn by Rosamund Pike in Gone Girl.

While Gyllenhaal carries the film on his performance alone, the supporting cast is also quite capable – Rene Russo (Dan Gilroy’s wife, by the way) is the only female presence in the film and leaves a strong impression as the network executive that’s almost willing to do anything for ratings. Bill Paxton plays a small but important role in the film, and despite limited screen time gives a memorable performance as well. Riz Ahmed’s Rick acts as the human foil for Lou, but at times does feel more like a convenient plot device rather than a convincingly written character.

Dan Gilroy pulls double duty as director (his debut) and screenwriter, and manages to excel at both. With such solid performers on board, he wisely chooses a straightforward, unflashy directorial style, but is aided by Robert Elswit hitting it out of the park with excellent cinematography – nighttime Los Angeles has not looked so spectacular since the equally lush take in 2011’s Drive. The scripting is impeccable, and although I question the veracity of how network news footage is acquired (and the sensationalism of news is a very tired, old trope), Gilroy is masterful in ramping up the suspense all the way to the explosive, macabre, yet strangely satisfying denouement.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)

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