← Back to Reviews


Yet again we've got a queue jumper. All those poor reviews that I've had sitting about for months have to take a back seat for this review I've written just in the last day or two. The reason I'm throwing it out there immediately is because I already mentioned I was working on this review so thought I'd just go ahead with it. As a result however it may be a little rougher round the edges than normal. My large backlog of reviews usually allows them to percolate for a time, during which I can tidy them up a touch


Year of release

Directed by
Dan Gilroy

Written by
Dan Gilroy

Jake Gyllenhaal
Rene Russo
Riz Ahmed
Bill Paxton
Kevin Rahm



Plot - Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is a driven but isolated individual who stalks the streets of Los Angeles in search of employment and a purpose in life. On one such night he stumbles across a traffic accident which introduces him to the world of 'nightcrawlers'; freelance individuals who track down and film incidents deemed newsworthy and then attempt to sell them on to local news outlets. Acquiring a basic model video camera and a police scanner his life soon becomes dominated by the accidents, fires, assaults and murders that plague the city. As he becomes more embroiled in this world he develops a working relationship with Nina Romina (Russo), the news director for a local TV station. With each new story that he gets on the air the more successful he becomes, allowing him to purchase superior equipment and to even hire an assistant in the form of the young and unemployed Rick (Ahmed). Under the guidance of Nina he learns that the more visceral and gruesome his footage, the higher the price he can command for it. And as it turns out, Louis seems willing to do absolutely anything to get such footage, no matter how questionable or illegal that activity may be.

There's a lot to admire and recommend about Nightcrawler (and if you know me well you'll know I'll do so in great detail! ) but I feel I'd be doing him a disservice if I didn't immediately talk about Jake Gyllenhaal. He gives what is undoubtedly one of the finest showings of his career to date. His performance is unflinching and darkly compelling as he really does lose himself in the character of Lou Bloom, one of the most unlikeable characters to be a movie's protagonist in quite some time. His proclivity for theft aside, Bloom initially presents as a slightly bumbling character of limited intelligence who is more likely to illicit pity more than anything else. He seems to be rather feckless and pretty aimless when it comes to his goals in life. In short he appears to be harmless. As the film progresses however we learn this is most certainly not the case as we discover him to be a truly deranged sociopath with ruthless ambition and no compassion for his fellow man. This is revealed in an excellent scene where he is having dinner with Rene Russo's news director, Nina. Both Nina and the audience believe this is to be a clumsy attempt at romance on his part. Out of nowhere however he does a complete 180° twist and reveals his true nature and intentions. We can now see him for the cunning and manipulative individual he truly is. And when he unveils his true character we realise how much of his previous behaviour was a mere facade and that's when he becomes quite a chilling creation.

In addition to capturing the personality of this Machiavellian oddball, Gyllenhaal also looks the part. His dark slicked-back hair, gaunt features and sunken, hollowed-out eyes give him quite the ghoulish appearance. In fact there were numerous times throughout the film where the lighting caught him just right that I thought to myself, 'you look like you're right out of a Tim Burton film.' The character of Lou Bloom is an extremely fascinating one. You're never sure from one moment to the next whether he's about to elicit an incredulous laugh or make your skin crawl. He is like the human equivalent of a car crash. We don't want want to look but we can't stop ourselves, and once we have looked it becomes seemingly impossible to avert your gaze. What is also very interesting is the world that Nightcrawler inhabits. This community of freelance news gatherers is a world I don't think has really been exposed on screen before, and it's one I was not really aware of whatsoever. Watching Bloom and his fellow 'nightcrawlers' stalking death and tragedy, massing around the victims of these predicaments like a pack of vultures is quite an unsettling and disheartening experience.

The film also features two welcome turns from Rene Russo and Bill Paxton, two actors whose appearances on the big screen have sadly been quite scant of late. I think that Russo does a really nice job with her role though I feel that on occasion her character had a tendency to be just a touch broad. I think we could have gotten the idea of the stance that her character represents without the character going so big at times. And while he is good during his screentime, Paxton's role is sadly very minimal. Those two are very experienced performers who have been plying their trade for several decades. The same can't be said for Riz Ahmed who is still very much at the dawn of his career. Probably best known for his leading role in Chris Morris' incendiary Four Lions, Ahmed proves likeable in the role of Rick, just about the only character in the whole film capable of eliciting any kind of empathy. He gives him a faintly endearing nervous naivety.

This is a film that brutally slays what passes for news coverage in our current society. A few days previous to this I had caught up with and finished the Aaron Sorkin TV series “The Newsroom” which proved to be quite a fascinating companion piece to Nightcrawler. The Newsroom presents journalism at its most idealised and optimistic, showing it as the tool of integrity and information that we all know it should be. Sadly that is now a somewhat outdated notion. In contrast Nightcrawler presents what is all too disappointingly closer to the actual truth of things. The term 'if it bleeds, it leads' is one that has now been around for quite some time. This film takes that sentiment and pushes it right to its absolute extremes, showing us where it is we are heading or perhaps arguing that it's too late and we're already there. The film highlights just how fear-driven the media has become. In one particularly unseemly sequence Russo's news director is seen coaching the on-air talent to really push the horror of a tragic news story and to induce fear in the audience.

What the film has to say about the media and journalism doesn't come as much of a revelation. If you'll excuse the pun, it's not exactly breaking news. After all, Sidney Lumet's Network highlighted the trade-off that news corporations are willing to make between journalistic integrity and ratings, and that was nearly 40 years ago! And to be honest I think it's something that most of us will have seen and recognised all on our own. That doesn't stop Nightcrawler from taking this well-travelled territory and doing it very, very well. One thing I would say however is that I found it rather strange that in this day and age the film never really addresses or even gives passing mention to the rise of the internet in terms of how people receive their news.

Film Trivia Snippets - To prepare to inhabit the role of Lou Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal dropped 20 pounds. This was not a suggestion of Dan Gilroy but Gyllenhaal's own idea as he visualised Lou as a hungry coyote. In addition to the weight loss, to create the character's lean, gaunt appearance he worked out for up to 8 hours and either ran or biked to the set every single day. /// While to prepare for his role Riz Ahmed actually rode along with real nightcrawlers on the streets of Los Angeles. /// Dan Gilroy, the film's writer and director, is actually married to Rene Russo. /// During the scene where Lou Bloom is seen talking to himself in the mirror Gyllenhaal got so lost in the scene that he punched the mirror. The mirror broke and badly cut his hand. He had to got to hospital and received stitches before returning to the set immediately after being discharged.
As I've detailed above, the film is most obviously a scathing critique on how the news is presented to us by today's media. Beyond that however Nightcrawler feels like a dissection of morality at large. Now I'll preface the next sentence by saying that I know full well how bizarre it sounds but go with me. At times during the film I actually found myself reminded of the series finale of Seinfeld. In that final episode Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine found themselves put on trial for failing to adhere to the 'Good Samaritan law', a decree which states we are obliged to offer help and do the right thing where possible. Nightcrawler seems like it is putting society as a whole on trial, seemingly showing us that everyone has their price at which they are prepared to sacrifice their ethics and assigning at least some of the blame for this situation on to us. It feels like the film is asking us where exactly does the buck stop in terms of blame. How far down the line do you have to go before someone is absolved of any wrongdoing? It's not just Lou Bloom who is at fault. How about Riz Ahmed's Rick who is assisting him in his pursuits? Or does he get a pass because he has been forced into doing he's not proud of just so he can survive; something I'm sure many of us can relate to. What about Russo's Nina who feeds on Bloom's macabre offerings like a drug addict? Or do we just chalk that up to her doing what she has to if she is to hold on to her job? Or how about us, the viewing public. For if we didn't watch such exploitative, morbid trash then it wouldn't exist. Are we were the true blame lies?

The film also presents us with what may be the darkest ever example of the American dream, seemingly denouncing it in the process and revealing the 'facts' behind that rosy, inspirational notion. After all what is Lou Bloom but a prime proponent of capitalism, entrepreneurial spirit and self-motivation? So many of the words and platitudes he spouts come across as either glib aphorisms or soulless cliches he's picked up from some online corporate management course. The film is like an expose of how sociopaths operate and how easily they can worm their way into our lives, and into positions of power. In fact so intriguing a character is the sociopathic Louis Bloom that I felt myself left wanting more. I wanted to see just where he went from here. While I'd put the odds of us ever seeing one very low, I can easily picture a sequel ten years down the line which reveals that his ambition, unflinching lack of ethics and emotionless drive has allowed him to make it all the way to the top of the news business, creating a media empire capable of rivalling the likes of Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner.

After the end credits had rolled I came online and was extremely surprised to find this to be Dan Gilroy's directorial debut. For his first outing this is an extremely assured and proficient showing; one that I imagine will vault him onto many people's lists of directors to keep an eye on in the future. Up until this point he had worked exclusively as a writer with quite the varied CV that includes such disparate projects as early 90s sci-fi Freejack, Tarsem Singh's The Fall, robot punch-em-up Real Steal and the black sheep of the Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy. In general it's not exactly a resume that hints that he had something like this in his locker, but as both writer and director he impresses greatly. His dialogue is sharp and punchy, and together with Paul Thomas Anderson's regular cinematographer, Robert Elswit, he creates an extremely atmospheric world for events to unfold in. He presents a Los Angeles at its most seedy and dangerous. There are definite echoes of the cityscapes evident in the work of Michael Mann or in Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, but with just an extra layer or two of grime thrown on for good measure. Gilroy also proves to have numerous other arrows in his directorial quiver. His pacing throughout is solid and as the film enters its second hour he changes gear on us and moves the film into the territory of great tension, really wringing out every drop of suspense that he can and making it an enthralling experience. He even proves adept at delivering a strong and thrilling action sequence at the film's close, a car chase that has a novel twist in that we're actually chasing a chase.

The film is not without its flaws however. Much like Bloom's search for a purpose in his life I felt that in the first half it took a while to really find its direction. Losing a little five or ten minutes may not have been the worst thing in the world. In the second half however Gilroy really turns the screw, ramping up the tension. However the film then pulls the trigger on quite an audacious moment that places the character of Lou Bloom in an entirely new light. Leading up to this point we have seen Bloom do some shocking and quite reprehensible things but this is in a completely different realm. I imagine it's a moment that may well divide audiences. Some will no doubt see it as an excellent, gutsy move that really caps off in the film in style. For me however I felt that Gilroy just went for a shock and perhaps pushed the boat out a little too far. For it to fully work I think the film needs to reside in the territory of pitch black comedy, whereas up until this point I had seen it as a predominantly straight-up thriller/drama

Those issues did not stop me from greatly enjoying and appreciating the film however. Just as with the equine equivalent, when the Oscar race gets under way a number of those in contention are split into several classifications. You've got the odds-on favourites, the long shots and then you have perhaps everyone's favourite, the dark horse. This film would probably fall into the latter category, and I'm not sure those horses have ever been darker than they are with Nightcrawler.

Conclusion - Nightcrawler certainly isn't what you'd call comfortable viewing. It's a film that resides very much in the seamy underbelly of society, but which also shows how that underbelly has seeped more and more into our everyday lives. Its ideas and arguments may not be overly original but they are presented in such slick fashion and in such a ballsy, feral manner that you may well not give a damn. In fact even if you take the themes and issues out of it, you can still be enthralled by Nightcrawler as a purely exhilarating thriller. As both writer and director Dan Gilroy has crafted a sharp, vibrant thriller that burns with caustic satire. But make no mistake, this is Jake Gyllenhaal's film. He is on screen for pretty much every frame and it's his restless, twisted, mesmerising performance that carries this amoral tale.