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June 27, 2020

Nightcrawler (2014)
Director: Dan Gilroy
Actors: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed

Nightcrawler' movie review: Jake Gyllenhaal slithers across Los ...

Synopsis: Drifter and petty criminal, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), becomes a stringer (a freelance photojournalist) who solicits payment for filming the aftermath of gory accidents and violent acts for local news channels.

Review: There’s a good movie somewhere inside Nightcrawler – its subject matter of the ethics of stringing (see synopsis) is rife with potential – but Dan Gilroy’s inability to decide whether this is a genre film or a sly socio-political work, and if it’s a black comedy or a psychological thriller, somewhat neuters the end-result.

Standing at the centre of the film’s allure and its paradoxes is the figure of Jake Gyllenhaal as central character, Lou Bloom. Gyllenhaal commits the proverbial 110% with a performance that is so full-on, from the manic, bulging eyes and the haunted, emaciated frame to the breathless delivery of Gilroy’s highly stylised monologues. Gyllenhaal is unquestionably compelling in the part and there is some element of truth about the way this self-made man is able to manufacture a career and status out of essentially nothing through sheer dogged determination and the will of a true sociopath – his ‘seduction’ of Rene Russo’s TV news editor in a Mexican restaurant is a particularly unnerving combination of dementedly earnest rationale and pure blackmail.

At times, Gilroy seems to be pushing his portrayal of Bloom into the territory of famous Scorsese antiheroes such as Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin, but this is where the faults in Nightcrawler start to show. Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy are ostensibly realistic and serious portrayals of mental instability and fanaticism, whereas Nightcrawler is too beholden to genre (it plays more like a dark comedy than a true psychological thriller) and when Bloom is disintegrating at home and pounding at his reflection in a mirror, it feels too hackneyed a gesture.

Even the treatment of the news station commissioning Bloom’s lurid recordings in an attempt to win a TV ratings war becomes increasingly didactic. The scenario needed to be scored in some semblance of reality for it to work, but Bloom invasively filming murder scenes before the police arrive (and the news station agreeing to play it) and withholding evidence about the identity of perpetrators feels like a step too far into the fictional and the lurid. This would be fine if Gilroy’s intent was simply to purvey a shlocky thriller, but he seems to be proselytising about the slippery morals of media organisations with Rene Russo’s desperately compromised news editor purring at the recording of the heinous murder scene – orchestrated by Bloom – at the film’s end.

Interestingly, to my mind, Gilroy was to iron out most of the wrinkles in this stylistic hotch-potch with his clever little genre hybrid, Velvet Buzzsaw, although most commentators prefer this piece of work. (June 2020)

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 7, 2021 5:06 pm

    I totally disagree, I thought this was a great film. I think it worked well as social satire, black comedy, and a psychological thriller.


  1. (t5!) My Decade in Lists 2010s: Actors – Let's Touch Fives!

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