Movie Review: 'Nightcrawler' Is A Slick Piece of Cinema

Nightcrawler Jake Gyllenhaal Louis "Lou" Bloom Open Road Films
Open Road Films

Underneath the dim lights of a nocturnal Los Angeles, a hollow-eyed creature claws out of the ether. He is a predator equipped with cunning, ambition, and a chillingly calm demeanor. He is Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a driven man whose most dangerous weapon is his mind, and it might be coming unhinged. Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a thrilling character study that plunges viewers into the seedy underworld of television journalism, alongside a strange and engrossing character.

Bloom is looking to make a sizeable income, and when he follows police cruisers to the scene of an accident, he sets his sights on a promising new career opportunity. With his curiosity peaked by what he witnesses, he begins asking questions and learns about “night crawling,” the business of capturing video footage of horrific crime or accident scenes to sell to television stations for airing on the news.

It is a highly competitive enterprise, and Bloom has his eyes set on dominating the field, which is bad news for Joe Loder (a flawlessly cast Bill Paxton), the "nightcrawler," who supplies Bloom with his initial intel.

When the film opens, it is clear there is something amiss about Lou. It’s just unclear what precisely that is. He’s quick-witted, hyper intelligent, blisteringly motivated, and exceptionally odd.

Whether these attributes are the makings for someone outright sinister is the central hook of the film. Not one to inundate its audience with answers, there are numerous questions left open to interpretation, which gives the audience room to speculate. 

Bloom is an entity that sweeps into existence out of nowhere. He’s presented as a sort of crash-landed alien, fascinated with the world around him and appalled over its continued unawareness of his existence.

While Bloom’s ego is reminiscent of Patrick Bateman’s in “American Psycho,” the former comes across far more diabolical and frighteningly plausible than the caricature Bateman is presented as which is a significant plus in the “Nightcrawler” column.

The protagonist at hand is fascinating enough to carry various plots, and Dan Gilroy’s chosen setting is indeed the perfect showcase for a crafty character such as this. The specter of true crime tabloid journalism and all of its tricky moral implications ups the ante, offering a unique neo-noir vibe to the proceedings. Through the looking glass of this harsh go-getter, you catch a glimpse of the nightly news that is shocking, disturbing, and frighteningly accurate when it comes to select markets.

The juxtaposition of Bloom’s flagrant persona is sharply contrasted with the “normal.” appearing worker bee anchors, whose buzzing behind the news desk is issued a cutting indictment which brings to mind the old adage, “better the devil you know…” It is subtle inferences like this that make “Nightcrawler” a movie that is as thought-provoking as it is entertaining. 

Gilroy’s script is fast-paced, intelligent, electrifying and gripping from beginning to end. A bastion of memorably stellar lines boosts the film's quality even further. Between rejuvenating the acronym for fear and peppering in numerous negotiation exchanges between Bloom and his protégé, there is a cache of cleverness that cannot be entirely devoured or appreciated in a single viewing.

At times a satirical commentary on tabloid news and the enduring human curiosity into the lurid. “Nightcrawler” hones in on some brutal truths that are too evident to ignore. This is a probing thriller, one that compels its audience to dig deeper than most films in its vein.

As Bloom begins crossing the line between witness and instigator, it unravels with such a hypnotic flair that one is drawn into riding shotgun in his cherry-red Charger without realizing they ever stepped inside. Armed with a spectacular script, star Jake Gyllenhaal brings Bloom to ferocious life. In a turn that is nothing short of mesmeric, he seeps into the very pores of the character, imbuing him with a presence that borders on transcendental.

Walking the fine line of mystique and blunt candor, Gyllenhaal goes for broke. He conveys a complexity of emotion that ranges from the mystically pensive to outright brazen, and he manages to do so without ever letting it tailspin into over-exaggeration. I did not see a better performance in 2014.

Instead of a character study solely consumed with growth, the nucleus of “Nightcrawler” revolves around a reveal. While there is an evolutionary bent to Bloom’s journey, it is the circumstances that unveil who already existed before the film began.

There are glimpses of who that someone is, and neither Gilroy nor Gyllenhaal let Bloom tip his hand, allowing the intrigue to fully captivate. A slick piece of cinema that warrants the rare second watch, “Nightcrawler” leaves a bitingly brilliant and lasting impression. Rating: 9/10