“Nightcrawler” Movie Review

     Writer/Director Dan Gilroy’s feature debut, “Nightcrawler” is one of the best films of the year thus far and deserves recognition as one of the most original crime films to ever appear on the silver screen.  Gilroy’s film echoes such classics as “Taxi Driver” and “Heat”, but clearly sets itself apart with an original story, sharp dialogue, and a haunting performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.  Set in Los Angeles, the story takes place mostly after hours and paints the city with a harrowing stroke of grit and dread.  Like most newscasts do, “Nightcrawler” focuses on the very worst of the city, ignoring the glitz and glamour that has made Los Angeles famous, and instead taking the audience into the seedy and dark back alleys of which only the people up to no good normally frequent.

     At its heart, “Nightcrawler” is a character study about a very dark and sociopathic individual.  Sure, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom is enabled by a number of people throughout the story, namely the media who finally get a highly truthful and critical portrayal in a film, but his undeniable knack for verbal persuasion and an unstoppable persistence carry him to dangerous heights as the stakes begin to raise.  Louis, who lives in a small apartment and drives a beat up old car, clearly wants more in life and is prepared to do what it takes to get it.  After being turned away for work with a construction company, he happens upon a fiery car crash and through some unknown impulse, decides to stop.  As he gets out of his car, a van pulls up and a camera man runs to the wrecked cars and films two California Highway Patrolmen pulling a victim out of one of the burning vehicles.  It’s the kind of video that leads on the evening news, and Louis learns from the freelance camera man that he sells the video he captures to whatever news station is willing to pay him the most.

     Though he has no experience in the trade, Louis obtains a video camera and a police scanner and tries his hand at being the first on scene to violent crimes in progress, stabbings, murders, and car accidents in order to film these realities of the street and sell them to the highest bidder.  In one of his first attempts, he is able to get right next to the emergency medical personnel treating a bloody victim who is gasping for life.  The footage he captures nets him his first $250.00 when he meets Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the news director for what is said to be the lowest rated news station in Los Angeles.  Nina, smug and arrogant at first, takes a liking to Louis and offers him the opportunity to bring by the videos he shoots in a sort of first look deal for herself.  If she likes the footage, she’ll buy it.  If not, he’s off to the next scene where hopefully he can find something news worthy.  The decision to do business with Louis obviously comes back to bite her, but you won’t feel sorry for her one bit.  Gilroy, directing his real life wife, has written quite a character in Nina.  She makes no bones about the fact she is looking for footage of white violent crime victims in affluent neighborhoods in circumstances where minorities from bad neighborhoods are the suspects.  “Nightcrawler” makes a bold a statement in this regard, exposing the media for their blatant and irresponsible news reporting that is meant to create fear amongst viewers.

     And so Louis takes his marching orders and over the next few weeks is able to deliver everything Nina is looking for and then some.  With his fledgling business now making money, Louis recruits an assistant he meets on the street, Rick (Riz Ahmed), and is able to upgrade his wheels by purchasing a brand new candy apple red Dodge Challenger.  As an audience, we already know through what we’ve observed what kind of guy Louis is.  He’s a fast talker and very slick, but there comes a certain point in the film where he begins to delve into the territory we would normally associate with film characters like Norman Bates.  Gyllenhaal’s gaunt face (he lost 30 pounds for the role) combined with his conservative style of dress and his strange mannerisms make for one creepy individual, but the success he has initially seems to fuel him for more and soon he transforms from being just a cameraman to someone who in their mind seems to think they are also controlling the action in front of the camera too.

     With the film’s third act launching when Louis arrives on what appears to be a home invasion robbery in progress before the police do, Gilroy creates a series of scenes that ratchet up the tension slowly, but ultimately culminate into one of the finest and most realistic police related action sequences I’ve ever seen.  As a veteran screenwriter credited with such films as “The Bourne Legacy” and “Real Steel”, Gilroy clearly excels at writing these head strong flawed male characters and has effectively transitioned to the director’s chair melding strong dialogue with suspenseful pacing and tension filled highly uncomfortable situations.  He does this during sequences in which Louis is capturing footage of murder victims and does just as well during conversational scenes, especially those in which Louis presents Nina with his ever growing list of demands for his work.  This is also one of the very few films I’ve seen where the responses by the police, as well as the suspects and situations they encounter are actually realistic and not glamorized.  Perhaps Gilroy didn’t see the need, since the cops function as merely the backdrop along with the criminals for the masterpieces Louis sets out to create each night.  GRADE: A