Nightcrawler is written and directed by Dan Gilroy whose background as largely been as a screenwriter with previous credits such as The Bourne Legacy (2012) and Real Steel (2011). Nightcrawler marks his first foray as a director and this film represents a distinct change in scenery from his previous main stream work. The film has strong production oversight which includes David Lancaster who has worked on the upcoming Whiplash (2014), Only God Forgives (2013) and Drive (2011).
The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal, an actor with a reputation for making good creative choices. That is if you ignore Prince of Persia: Sands of Time (2010). He has largely avoided blockbusters in preference to lower profile (critically well received) roles in films like Prisoners (2013) and End of Watch (2012). There is strong support from the ever lasting Rene Russo whose eclectic output has included Thor (2011), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) and Get Shorty (1995).
Nightcrawler centres on a socially dysfunctional loner, Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal), who when we meet him has got caught up in petty crime as he struggles to pay his way in the world while trying to find a job. One night while driving the streets of Los Angeles Bloom pulls over to look at a car accident when a ‘Nightcrawler’, an independent film crew that sells coverage of crime and carnage to local news channels, arrives on scene to capture the suffering of the victim and heroism of the police. He feels drawn to this and raises the money to buy a basic camera and emergency services radio scanner.
You cannot review this film and not talk about the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal. It is fantastic. The way in which he captures the persona of Louis Bloom and delivers it consistently over two hours is a very impressive feat. The result is that however extreme his character’s behaviour becomes it is totally believable. For all of his issues Bloom impressed me in his ability to just throw himself into a completely new environment and learn on the go. He immerses himself in every challenge and soaks up every piece of knowledge with a tenacity I can only dream of.
Ultimately he is a creepy nutter who derives a, perverse, voyeuristic joy from what he does and his success just drives him on to greater heights of depravity. Bloom forms a strange repulsive mutually beneficial relationship with Nina Romina (Russo), a nightime news director at the smallest local news station in Los Angeles, who is approaching the end of her current contract and needs to start attracting viewers. The relationship starts to take on a sexual edge, that the film surprisingly shies away from, as Bloom leverages his material to achieve what he cannot through regular social interaction.
Where the film didn’t succeed for me was the lack of emotional impact. There were times when I felt uncomfortable in the way Bloom would try and capture the pain and misery of victims of crime but that was as far as it went. I was fascinated by his character and the convincing portratayal by Gyllenhaal but it was a predominantly cerebral experience. It lacked the punch of a film like Fury (2014) or the joy of the last act of Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014).
Overall Nightcrawler is a well shot, well directed, well acted, piece of cinema that deserves a large audience and I understand the overwhelmingly positive reaction of professional film critics. It was a late night for me but I was glad I went to see it. The downside was that I couldn’t find a way to love it.