November Issue 2014

By | Arts & Culture | Movies | Published 10 years ago

Nightcrawler is yet another Jake Gyllenhaal picture in which profound content is merged beautifully with an outstanding performance by the actor. Whether it’s his collaborations with Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) or David Ayer’s spine-tingling End of Watch, Gyllenhaal always delivers, if not perfect, then perfectly watchable films.

Nightcrawler is no different. Directed by Dan Gilroy (yes, brother of Tony), it tells the story of petty thief Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) and how he becomes a freelance LA crime reporter overnight, providing TV stations with valuable, fresh footage of traffic accidents, shootouts or grisly murders. The way violence turns him on, as if it’s the only thing that matters, is disgusting. But then the bloodier the crime scene, the more money he’ll make as a paparazzo.

Hence the title, and hence Gyllenhaal at his most twisted since perhaps Donnie Darko. For this film, he’s lost a lot of weight, and his visage is more prominent.  He actually looks like he’s hungry for the ‘screaming woman running in the street with her throat cut’ at any cost, because that, according to producer Nina (Rene Russo), is what her channel needs most and will air.

There’s not much more plot other than a film which has built itself from and around this basic premise, but what a premise and what sustained tension throughout! Gilroy draws from real life — there’s an actual LA underground crime reporting scene on which Lou’s exploits are based. But Nightcrawler feels authentic for its satirical take on the importance of ratings too, which is as real as journalism gets, or as real as it has become. To put things into a Pakistani context, Nightcrawler is darkly comic — one just has to channel-surf to gauge how ratings-hungry Pakistani news anchors have become.

The comedy in Nightcrawler is of an ironic nature, since Lou, someone who in a perfect world would stand for journalistic values, such as being truthful or unbiased, is in fact prone to tweaking crime scenes minimally, to gain one-upmanship on other ‘nightcrawlers’ at times (one such ‘colleague’ played brilliantly by Bill Paxton). These are scenes of a surreal nature — the absurdity of it all is very funny and Lou’s audacity rather brilliant.

And still, make no mistake — we’re not supposed to root for Lou. His character is this year’s Jordan Belfort. He acts are despicable, much like those in the divisive The Wolf of Wall Street, where Scorsese showed us what kind of people get away with literally everything in today’s day and age. In that respect, there’s another valid comparison to be made to another Scorsese creation: Robert De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin from The King of Comedy, who will stop at nothing to become famous.

In a metaphysical way, we the viewers are actually closest to Rick (Riz Ahmed), a homeless person employed by Lou as his intern/assistant/driver. Riz Ahmed hits the right notes of incredulity, without caricaturing a most confused character. As a refreshing bonus, Ahmed actually gets to play a non-stereotypical character for South Asians. Hollywood take notice, it’s possible!

Nightcrawler is shot mostly at night, lending the film a sinister and ambiguous quality. Robert Elswit’s camera captures LA as a beautiful nightmare. It’s an essential and entertaining film — one that is sure to appear in several Top 10 lists at the end of the year.

This review was originally published in Newsline’s November 2014 issue under the headline, “Criminal Minds.”

Schayan Riaz is a film critic based in Germany