A sick and disturbing movie that is also often funny and enlightening, Nightcrawler has a lot of elements working in its favor. It’s thrilling, has great acting, is about something, and keeps you wondering and waiting to see what will happen next. It delivers on its promises, gives us an intriguing premise and cast, and while it wears out its welcome a few minutes before the end, is enthralling for the vast majority of its running time.
The film centers on Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), someone whom we first see as a simple thief. He’s driven and hard-working, and also a bit too … up front about himself and his intentions. But he’s also very smart. One day, while driving along the freeway, he notices a car crash. He pulls over and watches freelancers with cameras. He’s told that this team isn’t looking to hire anyone, but decides to try this job on his own. He steals a bike, sells it to a pawn shop, buys a camcorder and police radio, and begins filming horrific scenes. He sells the tapes to news director, Nina (Rene Russo).
This goes on for some time, and most of the film consists of following Louis — along with his sidekick, Rick (Riz Ahmed), to various crimes, at which point both men will film it and then sell the tape to Nina. But as we progress, we see that the crimes are escalating, and that Louis starts to manipulate them in order to get a better shot. Maybe that’s just moving a picture frame next to a bullet hole, or maybe it’s moving a dead body so the wide shot catches everything.
Exactly how far will Louis Bloom go? That’s the question that we ask ourselves as Nightcrawler plays. I mean, Louis initially comes off as a little odd, but is he a full-blown sociopath? Well, you’ll find the answer to that when you watch Nightcrawler. It’s quite the thrill to see it all work itself out. Louis is a compelling anti-hero, someone you love to hate, or hate to love, or some other cliché like that, and watching him work is as enjoyable as watching anyone who’s insanely good at their job. It’s like watching art. And since you’re watching a movie, you are watching art. Clever film.
Nightcrawler is also interested at examining the way that television news functions, particularly when it comes to the morality of showing violent and disturbing images, or what the stations will do in order to get the highest ratings. It’s not a flat condemnation, but … actually, I mostly is. But, then, you’re watching a violent and twisted movie for much the same reason. So, I guess it works, doesn’t it? Now don’t you feel bad?
The film is suitably creepy, just like its main character. But it’s also assured of what it’s doing, is smarter than your average thriller, and looks quite good while doing it. It’s been directed by Dan Gilroy, who has never before directed a feature film, but has written the screenplay for a few — most notably, The Bourne Legacy — and clearly understands what makes a movie work. Now, if we could tighten up the pacing a little bit, cut the film down by 10-15 minutes, we’d have an even better product.
Still, it’s all very much watchable because of how good everything is, and because of how compelling Jake Gyllenhaal is in the lead role. It’s hard to call him unhinged in the role, since he’s a calculating individual, but some of his facial expressions will remind you a lot of someone like Patrick Batemen — except that he’s in a much better movie, of course. Gyllenhaal hasn’t played a character quite like this one before, and his performance in Nightcrawler will wind up standing as one of his best performances when his career is all said and done.
Nightcrawler is all at once a film with a lot on its mind, a way to say it, and a filmmaker behind the camera who knows how to captivate and creep out an audience. What results is an interesting, complicated ride whose plot seems basic at first but whose success lies in the details and in the performance of Jack Gyllenhaal. It’s a creepy thrill ride of a movie that goes on for about 10 minutes too long, but otherwise is enthralling and well worth seeing.