2014 was the year I first started looking at film as an art form. Before that, movies were just mindless entertainment on a boring Saturday night. 2014 saw the release of instant classics such as John Wick, The Lego Movie, and Edge of Tomorrow. The film we are talking about today is a forget classic from that year, Nightcrawler. Director Dan Gilroy’s next film, Velvet Buzzsaw, released on Netflix on February 1st. I thought it was only apt to discuss Nightcrawler in honor of the release of Velvet Buzzsaw.
Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, and Bill Paxton. The original screenplay is written and directed by Dan Gilroy. Nightcrawler is Gilroy’s directorial debut, with his previous written work consisting of Two For the Money and The Bourne Legacy. The screenplay was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at 87th Academy Awards.
In modern-day Los Angeles, Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a swindler. He jumps from job to job trying to find the next big paycheck. Bloom is caught stealing scraps from a junkyard, and attacks the security guard that confronts him. This is the first example of Lou’s lack of empathy towards others. He sells the scraps for cash, and asks the gentleman in charge for a job. The man declines, stating he doesn’t hire criminals.
On Lou’s way home, he comes across an accident along the interstate. He pulls over out of shear curiosity of the situation. There he meets Joe Loder (Paxton), a freelance videographer. Loder captures the scenes of accidents or crimes and sells them to local television stations. Lou finds an interest in this nightcrawling and asks Loder for a job, to which he declines. Mesmerized by the freelancer, Lou steals a bike and trades it in for a camcorder and police scanner.
“My motto is if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy the ticket.”
Bloom begins nightcrawling each night, with little success. He comes across a fatal carjacking and captures the aftermath on video. He sells it to a local television station headed by news director, Nina Romina (Russo). She tells Lou that he has an eye for what she is looking for. The more real and disturbing the footage, the better. Lou hires a second hand in Rick (Ahmed). Rick follows Lou on his nights, becoming his partner and friend.
Lou’s sociopathic tendencies continue when he gives Nina an ultimatum. If she wishes to continue to receive his footage first, she must continue their relationship on a more personal level. She agrees, only if Lou can delivery more gripping content for her to put to air. After an altercation with Loder, Lou causes Loder’s van to crash. Not only does he orchestrate the crash, Lou also films the entire thing.
Lou has become one of the top nightcrawlers in the city. His work is featured almost daily on the local news. Bloom arrives to a home invasion homicide before the police do, and alters the crime scene to better fit his shots for television. Lou’s lack of empathy is shown tenfold in this scene, resulting in him withholding information to the police.
The climax of the film begins with Bloom and Rick investigating the home invasion suspects. The two become involved in a high speed chase with the Los Angeles police and the armed suspects. The chase ends when the suspects crash, leading to Lou asking Rick to film the aftermath. One of the gunmen shoots down Rick. Lou terminates Rick from his position, finding no more use from him. The film ends with Bloom hiring a group of new recruits. Lou tells each of them that they won’t do anything that he wouldn’t do himself.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Transformation In Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal has quite the strange career. He began his career at a very young age, and got wide recognition for his work in Donnie Darko and Bubble Boy. One thing that helped the young actors career is that he was never relegated to teen heartthrob status. Rather, Gyllenhaal delivered career defining performances in films such as Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, and Prisoners. Looking back on his career, Gyllenhaal has had very few flop besides Prince of Persia.
The now 38 year old actor delivers the best performance of his career in Nightcrawler. I have always referred to Louis Bloom as the anti-social step-cousin to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Like Bateman, Bloom shows no empathy towards others, even those that consider him a friend. Lou will do whatever it takes to better the story, thus better himself.
Gyllenhaal is unrecognizable in Nightcrawler. Instead of the charming, boy-next-door, Bloom is neurotic and just downright creepy. Gyllenhaal fully commits to the role, creating a character that somehow finds a way to make you hate to love. Bloom does despicable and downright unethical things throughout the film, but you cannot help but be memorized by his will to better himself. Gyllenhaal’s performance will go down as one of his career bests, and should have garnered him award recognition.
Dan Gilroy’s Man Behind the Madness In Nightcrawler
Nightcrawler marks the directorial debut for Dan Gilroy. The director is no stranger to the big screen. As stated before, Gilroy penned the scripts The Bourne Legacy and Two For the Money. With the director’s first feature, Gilroy delivers a story of suspense, drama, and thrills. Gilroy shows an eye for creating character based drama, without the need to over-complicate a story.
Nightcrawler shoots Los Angeles like I have never seen. The city is almost like a painting. Gilroy shows the audience the dark and dreary side of LA, with the beautiful California landscape almost like a background. The cinematography by Director of Photography Robert Elswit is absolutely gorgeous. Elswit previously worked on Punch Drunk Love and Mission Impossible Rogue Nation show. He knows how to film dark, dramatic moments along with big action set pieces.
Hollywood often times is known for stroking it’s own ego. Films set in LA portray the city as a magical wonderland. Gilroy, on the other hand shows the underbelly of LA living. Louis Bloom drives around in a muscle car, and is almost a star in the news world. But the character can never quite reach that dream that most people look for in LA. There is a glass ceiling for Lou, and he will be damned if he won’t try to break it.
Nightcrawler’s screenplay was nominated for Best Original Screenplay and for good reason. The movie takes it’s time to not only develop Lou as a character, but also the people he meets. Rick first arrives in the movie as a nervous man just looking to get a steady job. The character is a perfect balance to the antics of Bloom. In conclusion, once we reach the climax you feel sorrow for Rick, and it makes you hate Bloom even more.
Final Thoughts on Nightcrawler
Nightcrawler is a modern masterpiece. The films I can most compare it to are Taxi Driver and American Psycho. Both of those films are character based films in which the audience follows the story of a sociopath. Lou Bloom is a character you find off-putting and charming in a strange way. On the other hand, with that charm also comes fear. The almost unnatural way in which Bloom interacts with other humans makes you fear for those around him.
Dan Gilroy has become a director who I will watch any film he puts out. His latest, Velvet Buzzsaw, dropped on Netflix this week and I for one cannot wait to see what he does next. Velvet Buzzsaw will see the director reunite with Gyllenhaal and Russo in front of the camera, and DP Robert Elswit behind the camera.
In addition, look out for our full Velvet Buzzsaw review coming soon.