Hello everyone, my name’s Ben and I’m…(deep breath)…a Gyllenhaalic. I started getting interested in his work around the time Donnie Darko came out. I’d dabbled with Gyllenhaal since then but found I could take or leave it. It’s only in the past few years that it’s got really out of hand. The dude keeps picking interesting and challenging films and turning in awesome performances. Frankly, I’m starting to feel I need a cheeky bit of Gyll to have a good time. It’s got so bad I don’t even have to double check the spelling of his surname any more and I’ll chase after anything that has even the slightest whiff of G about it. You know the really messed up part? I’m not even sure I want to get better. *Drops mic and flips the room off*
Nightcrawler follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) a sleazy man looking for employment. During a night drive, he stumbles across a flaming car wreck, eagerly filmed by cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) and his associate. After a quick questioning, Lou finds out that Loder sells his graphic camera footage to the local news channels for significant sums. Bloom decides that this is the career for him and sets about becoming the scummiest cameraman around. Nightcrawler had me hooked from beginning to end. It’s hard to sum up what it actually is. It’s probably best described as a cynical dark comedy/satire. The plot, good as it is, almost isn’t important. It’s a fascinating character study of Lou Bloom, a clear sociopath, but a completely compelling entity. Part of Bloom’s brilliance is obviously down to the tight scripting and direction, but Gyllenhaal is totally on point. He’s fucking fantastic. Bloom is scary because he’s so believably unthreatening, if that makes sense. He talks with the cool rationale of Patrick Bateman, yet talks in the sort of meaningless execu-speak you’d find on job applications. He’s basically a walking LinkedIn profile and nothing’s more unsettling than that concept. Despite being Gyllenhaal’s film, there is strong support in the form of Rene Russo’s ratings-chasing Nina Romina, Bloom employee Rick (the excellent Four Lions‘ equally excellent Riz Ahmed) and Paxton’s rival nightcrawler.
It’s tempting to talk about Nightcrawler as a satire considering all it has to say about modern news and journalism, but no matter how heartless the decisions made are, it all rings depressingly true. Rene Russo’s character reminded me of Faye Dunaway in Network– same drive, same lack of anything approaching humanity. That’s pretty much the film’s MO though as Bloom walks around like an alien in a human suit. He smiles and exchanges pleasantries with people because he knows he’s supposed to, rather than having it come naturally. There’s also a lot of shit under the surface with him and we only see hints of the much angrier, crazier person underneath. The word anti-hero is bandied around a lot, but I think Lou Bloom is one. If heroes embody all of humanity’s positive traits then Lou is the exact opposite of that. One would think that would make him a villain, and he definitely is one, but I found myself half rooting for the guy. That disturbs me on a bunch of levels. I think it’s because I really didn’t want him to be rewarded for being a moral vacuum. It kept my eyeballs glued to the screen.
Time for one of my trademark WTF comparisons, but Nightcrawler reminded me slightly of Dredd. Y’see I and many other film bores like me bang on about character arcs like they’re going out of fashion (which sadly, isn’t too far from the truth), but like Dredd, Lou Bloom doesn’t have a character arc. He’s the same guy at the start of the film as he is at the end. Sure, stuff has happened to him, but no wisdom has been imparted, no life lessons learned, no new purpose in life, nothing. Again, like Dredd, it’s more about how other factors react to the immovable object, rather than the usual narrative of the object having to learn how to move. If I may drop some Film School 101 shit on you, in the case of a character with no real arc, it’s usually the audience watching in a cinema/at home that undergoes a transformation of sorts. We’re presented with a complete thing and only when the credits roll do we understand the context of said thing. I love stuff like that.
I’ve seen some Dan Gilroy written films before (The Bourne Legacy and Real Steel) and apart from Real Steel, those films can fuck right off. Seems like all Gilroy needed was some freedom to really cut loose. He both writes and directs here and does a stellar job at both. The cinematography is also beautiful with some amazing shots of nighttime L.A. that wouldn’t look out of place in Drive or Collateral. James Newton Howard’s score is all over the damn place and it works. One scene may have a soundtrack that grabs your throat and refuses to let go, whereas another could be scored by something that wouldn’t be amiss in a mid ’90s family-friendly comedy. All of this gives the effect that the film isn’t quite sure how to present Bloom. Is he a cruel joke of a human being, devoid of any morals or is he a heroic underdog? Let me just answer that for you. It’s the first one. However, it muddies up what many would assume are very clear boundaries and that’s disquieting.
I loved Nightcrawler. I saw it earlier in the year and enjoyed it thoroughly, but only on a second viewing could I appreciate how great it is. This review is a double whammy, because not only do I get to talk about something good for a change, but I finally get to talk about Nightcrawler specifically and cross off one of the more pressing titles on the massive Word document containing all the films I haven’t been bothered to write about. Now… *scratches arm awkwardly* anyone got any news on that Southpaw?