Writer & Director: Dan Gilroy
Cinematographer: Robert Elswit
Composer: James Newton Howard
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton.
Dan Gilroy, the writer and director of 2014’s drama Nightcrawler, received a lot of praise for the excellent script of the film. So much praise, in fact, that he was nominated for an Academy Award, among many other awards, and won some for penning the film. An already successful screenwriter (The Fall, The Bourne Legacy), he wasn’t given as much credit for directing the movie, his first time behind the camera. It’s a bit of a shame, really, because as good as the script is, the directing of the film is equally masterful. Gilroy managed to craft an excellent and brilliantly paced film that takes place almost exclusively at night, with complex car chasing scenes, a very small cast, and lots of action, without ever forgetting that the movie is meant to be suspenseful, dark in tone, urgent, and not fall into the genre territory it so easily could have. In the hands of a less expert helmer, Nightcrawler could have ended up like 2004’s Paparazzi. What, you’ve never heard of that movie? Yeah, I wish I hadn’t either.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain) plays Lou Bloom, a creepy and too skinny opportunistic man without skills but with a lot of misplaced ego. Driving home after being refused for a job, Lou stops by the side of the road after seeing a traffic accident. What makes him stop? We get the sense that Lou is just that kind of creep, the person who gets a thrill out of seeing scenes that should evoke disgust. He’s the type of guy who would go on rotten.com in its heyday (not sure if the website still exists, and I’m not gonna check) and scroll on it for hours. Either way, Lou sees a crew pull up at the accident and begin filming the officers as they attempt to rescue and help those involved in the crash. These freelance videographers and photographers inform Lou that they then sell the footage to news stations. Inspired, Lou purchases some basic video equipment and decides to do the same. Lou quickly realizes, though, that he is at a disadvantage – he doesn’t know the profession very well, he doesn’t have the equipment, and it will be hard to compete alone against people who are much better skilled than he is. So what is a shifty and troubled wannabe-stringer to do? The answer to that question is what drives both Lou and the film, all the way to its inevitable and troubling conclusion.
The cast is superb. Gyllenhaal, all skin and bones, almost skeletal with his big eyes bulging out of an emaciated face, provides a creep factor so high, that any time Lou interacts with someone in the film I wanted to cover my eyes due to how uncomfortable he made me feel. His speech is too crisp, slow, and his mannerisms just altered enough to make him appear deranged and yet wholly believable. Rene Russo, as a news station producer who begins a troubling working relationship with Lou, makes one question why the actress is not more visible these days. Aside from very peripheral roles in a couple of Thor movies, Russo has been MIA from Hollywood over the past decade, and this film shows what she is capable of and why she should be much more in demand than she is. This was my first time seeing Riz Ahmed on screen. I know a lot of people have gotten acquainted with him recently thanks to turns on HBO’s The Night Of and the most recent Star Wars movie, but not having seen those, this served as my introduction to the actor. Playing a soft-spoken and desperate second-fiddle to Lou, Ahmed’s Rick is a nervous and insecure collaborator, someone who participates willingly at times, but who is troubled by what he is complicit in. The character is great, and the actor playing him is fantastic. Also, watch out for Bill Paxton (Titanic) as a competing stringer who gets in Lou’s way.
The movie is thrilling and excellent. It also gives pause and makes one ponder on our role as viewers of the type of content news shows produce, and what these types of images both do to us as individuals and say about us as a society. Should we be troubled by what we consider to be news? Should we even be watching what amounts to as death as entertainment? The movie provokes needed discussions in regards to attempting to answer these questions. Several times while watching, my boyfriend and I looked at each other and expressed how good and affecting this movie was. We picked it on a whim on Netflix and were so glad we did. Definitely dark, pretty violent, but as a whole, really really good and thought-provoking!