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MovieMeditation presents...
Movie Review: Nightcrawler
written & directed by Dan Gilroy

The city shines brightest at night...

'Nightcrawler' is written and directed by newcomer Dan Gilroy, who incidentally, is also a relative of screenwriter and director Tony Gilroy. Tony has, among other things, sat firmly behind the typewriter of the first three Bourne movies, and even stood behind the camera himself on the fourth one. Anyhow, we better return to the rightful and relevant family member in this discussion, and point out right from the start, that it is certainly not a weak commencement that Dan has received in relation to his career. While 'Nightcrawler' is indeed Dan Gilroy's directional debut, he still managed to get Jake Gyllenhaal on board both as a producer and in the leading role, with Bill Paxton and Rene Russo in complementary roles and veteran cinematographer, Robert Elswit, in charge of the visual department. So how does he handle his debut? Surprisingly well, actually...


The Story
'Nightcrawler' has its spotlight focused upon the unemployed and desperate Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), who makes a living out of stealing other people's private property and later sell them off. Lou has, in connection to his life at the bottom, developed a cold and cynical way of thinking, wherein the very lives of other people lies completely and carelessly on the outside of his figurative “focus zone”. As long as there is money to collect at the end of it all, it doesn’t matter how uneven and obscure the journey may get. This virtually venomous descending spiral has ultimately spun Lou Bloom’s life completely out of control, and not even the lowest-paying jobs or the distressed offers to work for free get Lou active and occupied in the labour market.

But one evening, when Bloom accidentally ends up in the middle of the merciless mayhem of television reporting, he suddenly knows exactly what his next big step in life will be. Now, Lou Bloom wants to be entirely accountable for his own career; and merely by the necessities of his car, a camera and a police radio, he is dressed in the guise of a dark and determined “footage hunter”, ready to capture Los Angeles at its most shocking and gruesome. Bloom’s carelessness quickly makes him notorious at a local TV station of which is lead by an editor, who herself, is also desperately in need of someone like Bloom to raise her ever-reducing ratings… And just as Bloom rolls out, the money rolls in. Finally it is him who is in control, and the others who are desperate for his work. His violent and shocking images have led to cash and recognition, but ever so gently and concurrently he also removes himself from the real world, and the people who live in it.

Dan Gilroy has created a film that slowly comes creeping like a mysterious and frightening figure in the illuminating gloom of the nightlights. The movie starts small and ends big, all the while the journey there certainly isn’t without its fair share of blood, sweat – and more blood! It is effectual “movie manufacturing” of the uppermost quality, and both Gilroy and Gyllenhaal know just how to actively raise the ratings in theatres worldwide. 'Nightcrawler' is a murky and rather extreme experience, where the dark undertones of the story, acts like a shell slowly getting crushed, only to reveal the gleaming little gem hidden inside. For it is certainly not a pleasant film to live through, and especially its picturesque projection of the barbarous perfidy of the TV medium, truly creeps uncomfortably under your skin. It is debatable, to some extent, whether the film ever takes things a bit too far, not necessarily violent-wise but also story-wise, but personally I don’t see the film as a forced depiction of the news media itself, but rather as an honest portrayal of a man’s mentality slowly but surely dissolving.

The leading role is realized by the intimidating, Jake Gyllenhaal, and though his acting skills are undeniably in perfect shape, his physical appearance remains the complete opposite, which is obviously meant in a positive manner in regards to the very nature of the character and his presence. “Charming Jake” has actually lost 30 pounds to be able to crawl deep into the role of the metaphorical and (presumably also) literal hungry reporter. A frayed exterior with prominent cheekbones and long greasy hair works seamlessly with his unstable and psychotic interior. His twisted personality also contributes to a surprisingly humorous film, and instead of a boring social commentary the film turns to controlled pitch-black satire – but without ever losing sight of its true message. The film doesn’t judge its characters either, a bit like it was the case with Martin Scorsese's 'Wolf of Wall Street' from last year. 'Nightcrawler' possesses the same unethical and ruthless atmosphere; all the while the audience is left in the position of doing the justice themselves, over the film’s characters, as it feels appropriate. However, it could perhaps be predominantly desired that Lou Bloom had been just a bit more human, even if his camera assistant might be the one acting as Lou’s obstructionist counterpoint. Seen from Lou Bloom’s perspective nothing is morally incorrect, as long as he is there to record at the right time, and the money ends up in the right place… his own pocket.

The Acting
As mentioned in the previous section, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a chillingly good performance in the role of Lou Bloom. Both his physical and mental presence is felt through the film, and above all it is a truly interesting character to follow. And although the title of the film may mislead you, Lou is not a superhero who fights crime, nor does he really belong on the other side of the law – he runs around right in the centre of it all, amidst all the chaos, and does everything to get it on film. Exactly that motivation and attitude could clearly be felt through Gyllenhaal's dark portrayal, which really sticks with you, without ever being overplayed or too dominant.

Bill Paxton is also to be found in the cast, and without shining too much, he does a fine job as Bloom's archenemy in the competitive rushing of television reporting. Except for Jake Gyllenhaal though, it is especially Rene Russo who is really prominent as the desperate television editor. She acts almost as a further development of the Bloom character; grinningly accepting all the grotesque video clips that Lou brings in at rapid speed. Therefore, she is also ideal as Lou’s “admirable goddess”, who, in a slightly finer manner, holds some of the same fear-provoking traits.

The Visuals
'Nightcrawler' doesn’t try to establish a dim and colourless facade, nor is the movie playing ruthlessly around with various neon lights and artsy bright pools of water glowing evidently in the dark. Dan Gilroy and his photographer, Robert Elswit, have obviously aimed for the honest and raw “documented realism”, which helps to lift the film to a more intense level. You are often left feeling like a guilty accomplice to Bloom’s many criminal offenses, when you are dragged along with steady hands in between multiple corpses and near the heat of burning cars. Nevertheless, I still wish that the film had played around with the colossal workspaces of the city to greater extent, and (dare I say it) the all too brief handheld sequences, in between. But as a whole, it is a solid visual wander through the unedited and explicit exterior of news reporting.

The Soundscape
The tone of the film is captured astonishingly well, when referring to the fascinating and well-constructed soundtrack that it possesses. Often a bit light and other times a bit gloomy; but from beginning to end it is without a doubt a balanced suggestion on how both the story and its characters gets the appropriate auditory outline. And although 'Nightcrawler', as I mentioned previously, is not related to the superhero genre, there is still little heroic hints to find in the musical tones of the film. Deliberately? Maybe...


SHORT SUMMARY // 'Nightcrawler' is a fascinating journey down a twisted path, which winds and turns so much, that the next destination can never be fully predicted. You are left in an almost disoriented state, once you realize that you are still alive and well, after almost two hours in nervous company of the frightening and yet so friendly Lou Bloom – a character, who has graduated from stealing people's personal belongings to stealing their full attention – and neither the first nor the second is done legally. As Lou rolls out to capture the moments, the money rolls in from the momentum of the captivated audiences all around the states. And I wonder if audiences will do the same in theatres? Certainly I can only recommend, that you ally yourself with 'Nightcrawler' for just a single night, and take a wild tour throughout the darkest streets and alleyways of Los Angeles.