Stuck in a window of big releases like Interstellar, Big Hero 6 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, this movie could easily fizzle out in the coming weeks and go unnoticed by a lot of people.
That would be a shame, because Nightcrawler is a high-octane thriller that defies the idea of “style over substance” by sufficiently manipulating both. Set in Los Angeles, the movie follows an ambitious drifter named Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he dives into the world of freelance crime journalism. Both intriguing and wickedly entertaining, the film offers plenty of social commentary for those wanting to dissect its themes and enough thrills to please viewers who just want something to engage them.
What I liked
Right off the bat, I need to talk about Jake Gyllenhaal, because this could be a career-defining role for him. His performance is that impressive. I’ve always known he was a solid actor, but I’ve usually found myself talking about his movies in the context of “Jake Gyllenhaal’s character.” This is the first time he’s really convinced me that he is his character. I wouldn’t be surprised if his name ended up on a shortlist of possible candidates for a “Best Actor” Oscar. Renee Russo and Bill Paxton were important to the story and were also on point with their acting, but at the end of the day, this is Gyllenhaal’s movie.
Of course, it probably helps that the actor was given a lot to do in this movie. His character, Lou Bloom, is one of the creepiest protagonists I’ve seen on film this year. Bloom is essentially a sociopath. He’s driven and intelligent, but something about him is way off. His introductory scene is a great example of how effective the “short, sweet, and to the point” method can be in the right context. This scene perfectly summarizes Lou in the same way the bank robbery from The Dark Knight summarizes the Joker.
Bloom would be nothing, however, without a narrative to take part in. Nightcrawler tells a solid story that can be best described as a stylish cross between the HBO drama series The Newsroom and Grand Theft Auto 5. Director Dan Gilroy takes a notably artistic approach in how he depicts L.A. crime and the journalists who seek to exploit it for personal gain.
Everything in this film is stylized and, subsequently, exaggerated. Gilroy wants desperately to raise questions regarding both ambition and the media’s role in perpetuating violence, but he doesn’t want to come off as “preachy” by doing so. The film narrowly escapes that association through the standard “show, don’t tell” cinematic approach. We see scary things happening in the film’s version of mass media, but an audience is purposefully left out of the movie, forcing us to take their place.
What I didn’t like
This is actually pretty tough for me. There wasn’t a whole lot about the movie that was objectively bad, so this section is going to be significantly shorter than the last.
My biggest complaint with Nightcrawler is that the trailer showed too much for my taste. The movie built up tension so well, but I would ultimately recognize a scene here and there, quickly deflating the tension. If you’re thinking about seeing this movie but want to see what it looks like first, I’d advise you to stay away from the full trailer. One of the 30-second tv spots will give you the information from the trailer, but with way fewer spoilers.
There were a few glaring plot holes throughout the story, and some scenes in the control room tried to be too suspenseful for what was they really were. There wasn’t much of a soundtrack to this movie, and the small score that was there did not impress me. However, all of these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of the movie. None of these issues negate any of the good things Nightcrawler has going for it.
Dan Gilroy shows significant potential with his outstanding directorial debut, which sees Jake Gyllenhaal in his best dramatic performance to date. Nightcrawler deals with important themes in a colorful and satirical manner while also providing a thrill ride through urban Los Angeles. This is a movie I’d recommend to everyone.
One last personal note: be prepared. If you really want to see Nightcrawler, then understand you may have to leave your moral obligations at the door. It’s a movie that uses its own depravity to send a message, and that message is incredibly hard to hear if you’re too distracted by how messed up the characters are.
Have you seen Nightcrawler? What did you think?