I was lucky enough to see this as part of a secret screening last night and it’s such a treat to watch. Affectingly dark, this is a solidly engaging and unnerving feature film debut for director Dan Gilroy. The Californian night will never seem so alive with crime and questionable morals of the media and public sourced footage. The film feels like a ticking time bomb as you witness the birth and growth of this nightcrawler’s talent.
In California, a sly yet passionate and willing man by the name of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is seeking quick money and stumbles upon the grimy yet lucrative career of nightcrawling; turning up to crimes, crashes etc to document the danger before police and get it sent to news teams for money. It’s a job that quickly suits Bloom’s nature and after hiring an intern it isn’t long until he’s bending around the law to try and get the next big scoops.
Dan Gilroy has such an eye for this type of story. The beginning is shot beautifully leading you down a road of false security as we see daylight exteriors setting up the location, but as expected the majority of the film takes place during the twilight hours of the city. There’s a simple yet vivid look to most of the movie making everything look sort of like a news report car crash item but the sheen of it gives it a glossy and frankly unnerving image. Gilroy clearly has patience in the 117 minute running time to build that apprehension of Bloom’s psyche and it works a lot as we see repeated shots of his life and/or routine making him seem to focused or normal, i.e, watering his plant or watching TV laughing to himself in his home. The film is undoubtedly stylish but not so much so that you never believe what you’re seeing, it’s lying in this realism of events that could happen that makes it more worrying.
James Newton Howard who is so successful and has talent for motion picture scores, uses that know-how for this smaller scaled film and it gives it a burning grimy quality, especially in the car chasing segments and at one montage point as you see the rise of Bloom in this field of expertise. That montage in general is fantastically done, with edits tallying up to Bloom’s home video collection, back and forth’s of his new car adding pace to the film, it’s also helpful to adding more tension to what was already there as we see how dangerously efficient he is at this new role.
The story itself, written by Gilroy is coursing with dark undertones, the writing of Lou Bloom is thick with that bubbling current of suspicion and unease. He spiels off information like a better written Wikipedia page, he has an eye for details and framings and has the brains to carry out the best led story, even if it means letting people die in the process. It’s a calmly scripted character that does so much more to make you anxious watching him, than if he was just overly mad for the sake of it. Of course you need bursts of his true self coming through and you get that now and then but it’s in the more relaxed, smarmy clearly scheming side of things that his character comes alive.
Taking the morning news angle and dangling a moral compass over the authenticity of it as a media package is very interesting as you just know news hounds and press teams will do anything for a story and it does all get shockingly crude as they document house invasions or bloody bodies. It may of course be a far stretch from how American news channels really work but you can believe it to a degree that they loosen their morals to get the best headline. Every character involved in this film is necessary and never contrived, they all work to compliment or go against Bloom as the lead and that gives space for opposing ideals, some loving his work and others firmly going against his footage.
It really is the Jake Gyllenhaal show however, as he embodies this deadly yet charming figure of a man. It’s an odd performance making you see Leo as some ghoul of a guy, in physicality and mind. Gyllenhaal uses his eyes a lot and to great effect, there’s something so scary in those wide eyes that draw you in and work hard to keep you there. He is excellent, one of his best performances ever and chilling is not the word to use for his acting, it’s so much better than that, a wiry, shadowy creepy performance that entices you and sucks you into the sleazy world of this film.
The only thing that is of minor bugging to me is the ending, I still don’t know whether I liked it, whether it worked or not. There’s also slight bits and pieces in the last 15 minutes of the film that feel rushed. These are small criticisms that might completely evaporate when I see it on release day, but they’re there nonetheless.
Deep and dark in visuals and performance, ‘Nightcrawler’ succeeds in balancing actual quality moments of hilarity with awkward laughter and metal tangled, blood drenched nightmarish after dark frights in a fresh and bold way.