Regular Dude Movie Review: ‘Nightcrawler’

Above: Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Dan Gilroy's 'Nightcrawler'
Above: Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Dan Gilroy's 'Nightcrawler'

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) looks like a man in dire need of more sleep and regular nourishment. He’s gaunt – all cheekbones and sunken eyes – with slicked hair that he ties into a samurai top knot from time to time.

When he speaks, the self-created freelance crime videographer sounds like someone that listened to far too many Tony Robbins tapes. When he’s not saying what he thinks the people he’s trying to scheme want to hear, he’s serving them cliches and platitudes. He’s the telemarketer hellbent on convincing you to change your cell phone package, except when you try to blow him off and hang up, a hint of a threat creeps out just enough to make you feel uneasy.

Director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler follows Lou’s climb from being a steal-and-sell artist peddling whatever he can get his hands on into a career capturing the ugliness of Los Angeles at night on camera. Seeing the carnage he’s captured on video show up on his television fuels him and there is no end to what he’s willing to do in order to get the best shot. Whether it’s crossing a police line or doing whatever it takes to make the shot jump off the screen a little more, Bloom is transfixed by finding the grim images that will lead the early morning news.

In Nina (Rene Russo), the “vampire shift” news director at struggling KWLA, he’s found a kindred spirit – someone more worried about ratings and market share than making ethical and moral choices. From the first time Nina buys one of his clips, Lou is both hooked and hunting, simultaneously trying to win her attention and affection while constantly searching for ways to improve his negotiating power.

Before he’s upgraded from cruising in his beat up car, Lou brings on an intern, Rick (Riz Ahmed), to serve as his navigator with promises of something more in the future. Rick is transient and desperate for money, buys Lou’s sales pitch and rides shotgun as they zip through the streets listening to police scanner in hopes of landing at the latest house fire or car crash before anyone else.

Success comes quickly and with it comes the thirst for more. A faster car, better equipment, and more questionable practices, all in service of getting the best footage possible. Lou and Nina feed off each other, even when everyone around them feels the pangs in the stomach that tells them what they’re doing crosses the line.

Nightcrawler aims to depict the dark side of television news – the questionable decisions that get made in the name of greater ratings, the peddling of human suffering and misery and the sensationalism that accompanies already grim events.

Gyllenhaal embodies it well, hitting the road night after night in search of the next story, happy to take whatever steps he feels are necessary to get the images that he wants. He’s the guy that just creeps you out a little, even if you can’t put your finger on why. There’s just something about him – something simmering just below the surface – that makes you uneasy and Gyllenhaal carries it nicely throughout.

Ahmed does a good job as his counterbalance, jumping into the situation because he’s got no other options, but quickly showing he’s not built like Gyllenhaal’s Lou. And Russo does solid work as the nomadic news director, cueing anchors to drive home grim details and stinging verbage from the control room.

The problem is that Nightcrawler stadles the line between being a dark comedy and a direct attack at the industry. In refusing to commit either way, it comes up a little short.

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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