Nightcrawler has come out of nowhere to become one of my favorite films of 2014. As of right now, I’d even go as far to say that it is my favorite overall. I didn’t even know it existed until a few months ago where a brief teaser, revealing a skinnier, slightly menacing Jake Gyllenhaal, completely gripped me. It’s all I’ve been thinking about for a while. As with most things I hype up for myself, I was worried that the final product would ultimately let me down in some way.
Thankfully, Nightcrawler is everything I hoped it’d be. If this is the only part of the reviews you read, go see Nightcrawler. For everyone else, I just have to talk about it.
Nightcrawler follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man so desperate for money and a job he’s willing to go to great lengths to get what he wants. After stumbling on the scene of a deadly car accident and finds Joe (Bill Paxton) recording the carnage, Lou works his way into the world of sensationalist journalism by becoming a nightcrawler, someone who records footage of crime and sells it to local news stations. From there, Lou just tries his damndest to be successful at what he does and no one is going to get in the way of that.
Everything is meticulously arranged. From the setting (it’s in LA), the color palette (lots of drab pastels catch the eye and give the film a nostalgic vibe), and the time period it’s set in is blurred. Although the film is technically a contemporary take on Los Angeles, it’s like the entire film is in a bubble. There are present technologies (like fancy cameras, cars and GPS systems) but they’re held back until Lou gets enough money for them. It’s an implied “money sets you back a few years” that permeates throughout the film. As more and more money leads to more success, and thus making the power money brings a necessity to move forward, you also sympathize with Lou’s plight. The fact you can sympathize with Lou at all is a miracle of storytelling as well.
Lou Bloom is a, well, scumbag. His dark nature is thankfully never kept from sight. As we’re introduced to him, he’s in the middle of stealing copper wire and manhole covers. When he’s confronted by security, he commits a violent act to escape. And with that the audience as a whole is clutched within his skinny little fingers. Everything about Lou is framed perfectly. As you watch a man who’s already swimming in a pool of his own grotesqueness, the tension is mined from how far he’s willing to reach to attain a semblance of power. I got goosebumps just watching him “interact” with a few of the crime scenes later in the film as I was caught between wondering whether or not he’d get punished for his actions and hoping he’d succeed. But that’s also attributed to Gyllenhaal’s fabulous performance.
Although Lou has all the makings of a sociopath (he’s charismatically detestable, he has a certain routine with his house chores), Gyllenhaal seems like he’s just a guy down on his luck. When he gets power you see that facade crack a bit, but it’s always hidden by a breathtaking professionalism. Gyllenhaal always has a smile, but his eyes never lose their intensity (thanks to wonderfully filmed angles highlighting the shadows cascading from Gyllenhaal’s now angular face). He’s slick and dangerous, but Gyllenhaal makes it possible to even want to watch Lou do things. It’s like staring at the scene of a car accident yourself. You get this knot in your stomach because you know your curiousity is leading you to do inherently bad things, but you keep watching to see the outcome. When his performance works in tandem with writer/director Dan Gilroy’s many close ups, you have no choice but to stay along for the ride.
The amoral nature of viewing tragedy through your TV screen is personified with Lou. While he may not represent the audience directly, he’s an exaggerated reflection of our drive to succeed compounded with the distance we create between what we see and how we reflect on those sights. A quite literal “started from the bottom now we here” story that finds the darkest corners of that bottom and twists the views of the rewards from the top. What is there to gain but hollow victory? As Nightcrawler washes over Lou’s many successes, and thus makes his transition to a powerful state less visible, it reminds you how little actually changes when you see the world through a narrowed perspective like that of a camera lens.
Nightcrawler isn’t a perfect film (there are a few too many on the nose speeches, the pace of the film tends to wallow a bit in certain areas, and if Lou doesn’t appeal to you the film won’t stick), but it’s a highly entertaining dissection of professional aspiration. And the wonderful thing is, that isn’t the only way to see it. The film is packed with so much depth with journalistic quandaries, practicality vs. romanticism, and is basically everything you’d want in a thought provoking film.
Nightcrawler has gotten under my skin and refused to leave.