Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
There are certain styles you stick to when setting a movie in the heart of Los Angeles. You either go classy Hollywood glamor or you go seedy, gritty downtown. What makes a good Los Angeles film is when you take one of those styles and make it your own, like director Dan Gilroy has done with Nightcrawler, an intense and strange thrill ride starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a dishonest, down-on-his-luck man who uncovers a way to make some quick money. It features a nail-biter finish that makes everything worthwhile.
When we meet Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal), he is cutting chain link fencing and beating up a security guard to steal his watch. We then see him steal a bike at the beach only to turn around and offer a pretty palpable sales pitch to a pawn shop owner. There's nothing inherently appealing about this guy other than the fact that he's interesting to watch. When he sees, firsthand, how a freelance film crew captures breaking news and sales the footage for big bucks to local television news stations, an idea is born. With crappy equipment he infiltrates local crime scenes using his innocence to get ridiculously graphic, but enticing, footage. When he crosses paths with a graveyard shift news producer (Rene Russo) bent on earning higher ratings, Bloom's talents become a certified gold mine. It's when he lets it all go to his strange head that things begin to unravel in a very peculiar way.
Gyllenhaal is the selling point here. There's an intensity in this performance that we've never quite seen from him. He literally dives into this eerie persona. We're never given the complete backstory to why Bloom is the way he is or even if he's maybe suffering from a mental disorder. In fact, the backstory doesn't even matter. It's every moment in the present that is completely interesting to watch. It's like getting a great people-watching moment at Wal-Mart. It doesn't matter where the person came from. It's the fact that you're getting to take it all in in that very moment.
Russo is cavalier in her most intense role in a long time. It's being called her "comeback" role, much like Michael Keaton is being lauded for Birdman. I'm never a fan of pointing out things like that. I'd much rather just say that Gilroy found the perfect actress for the role of the bitchy producer trying to save her career, even if that means jumping ship and airing material that may not be in line with journalistic norms.
While watching Nightcrawler, it's hard not to compare the look and feel to a similarly-styled Los Angeles movie. In Michael Mann's Collateral, the images we see offer a natural grittiness. The blues and golds intensify the natural lighting around, making everything seem even that much more real. It's a similar approach taken in other recent movies like The Bling Ring and Spring Breakers. The city and its surroundings, in essence, become a part of the story itself.
There's no part where the city comes alive better than in the final act. A daring Bloom almost scripts together this perfect moment for himself and his colleagues. It's one of the best car chase scenes in recent film and gives us a final glimpse into the horrific, but still appealing, brain that he occupies.
The film is a total package movie. It's an action flick that isn't afraid to be smart. Gyllenhaal gives an unnerving performance that should earn him a few award nominations in the coming months. There are quiet moments that work like a charm, only to be outdone by the incredible story Gilroy has written and pieced together.
Runtime: 117 minutes