To those who don’t take much of an interest in fishing or entomology, the term “night crawler” may not bring up much to mind, except maybe a blue skinned mutant played by Alan Cumming in the second X-Men film. However, to the uninitiated, a night crawler is simply an earthworm, a slimy, protein filled, simple brained creature spending its life in the dirt. This seems to be the perfect metaphor for the line of work. the main character of this film Nightcrawler gets himself into, shooting footage of accidents and crime for local news media.
Fortunately, once it settles down, Nightcrawler becomes both an exciting thriller as well as a searing indictment on news gathering, led by an Oscar worthy performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a sketchy, lonely, guy living in Los Angeles, who nevertheless is driven by educating himself and making himself marketable to others in hopes to build a career. “If you want to win the lottery” he tells a constructor foreman early in the film “you need to earn the money to buy a ticket”. In need of a job soon, Lou happens across an accident that brings both police and camera crews there to film the scene to sell to the news outlets. Inspired, Lou sets out to get into this profession, and becomes successful at it selling to a news director of a low rated local syndicate (Rene Russo), soon however, he becomes too ambitious and successful in his new profession, and problems arise…
To say this is an actor’s movie is an understatement. This film needed a lead performance to be fantastic in order for the film to succeed and it absolutely got one from Jake Gyllenhaal. He transforms himself into Lou, not merely an actor playing a role, and Gyllenhaal plays Lou so cold, so calculating, always about business and domination wrapped in a “nice guy” persona that he electrifies every scene. Lou is basically Anton Chigurh, Travis Bickle and Abed from Community rolled into one character, and Gyllenhaal renders fear and support in equal measure. If he is not nominated for Best Actor and is not considered the frontrunner, it is a grave miscalculation.
The supporting cast also follows suit, especially Rene Russo as news director Nina and Bill Paxton as another “night crawler” who at first is annoyed then annoys Lou.
Dan Gilroy makes a great directorial debut with this film, he really captures Los Angeles in a way no one has since Nicolas Winding Refn did in Drive and this is possibly one of the first films to feature the city under the new streetlights that many feared would change aesthetics. Fortunately, Gilroy shows there is still life left in the city with the new lights. He also let the scenery absorb the audience, and lets the audience digest such an intense performance from Gyllenhaal that could have been risky taking all at once. The pacing was a little off, and this movie took a little bit to settle down, but once it did, it was a hell of a ride.
Gilroy’s screenplay was also very good, building on characters and ideas instead of action or really even the violent scenes Lou gets himself into. It also has a lot to say about local news and its voyeurism as well as the use of theatrics over journalism. All of this comes off as natural and an accepted practice to many in the business, and it’s never too heavy handed in this picture.
Overall, see this film, it may take a bit to get in to, but once you buckle in, Jake Gyllenhaal takes you on one wild ride that should not be missed.