D/W: Dan Gilroy. DP: Robert Elswit. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Kevin Rahm, Ann Cusack.
Some people mark fall by when the leaves in their city change or when Starbucks injects everything with pumpkin or the air gets a bit crispier. Really, for me, fall begins when the movies come to town. Not the bright sparkly movies of the summer, but the hard Oscar chasing ones of the cold months. If we aren’t scrambling to place our awards season bets, then it’s not that time of year yet.
Loosing twenty pounds for the role and hardly sleeping clearly work in favor of main man Jake Gyllenhaal’s new role as Lou Bloom in Dan Gilroy’s Nighcrawler. Living a sort of stunted nocturnal existence in Los Angeles, Gyllenhaal’s Lou plays a game and gets ahead. Stealing and getting by seems to be how he makes ends meet, making you wonder how much of him is truly earned or stolen. Begging the question, what game does he actually think he’s playing? Eventually he finds himself nightcrawling, using a police scanner to show up at bloody crime scenes to get hot footage to sell to local news networks for their morning roundups.
The Los Angeles setting of Nightcrawler obviously breathes and acts like a character in the film, but the city’s sprawling highways, gentrification, and urban crime aren’t all it’s made up of. LA is not only a place where dreams and ambitions go to be made, but they also go to die. It’s a city of bleeding prostrating space whose holes and cracks breed right under your feet and where someone like Lou Bloom could live unabashed. Or maybe even work for TMZ.
To say Nighcrawler is topical is an understatement. Gyllenhaal’s Lou not only lives off adrenaline fueled exploitation, but actually generates it. Paired with an equally adept Rene Russo as his verbal sparing partner at the news station he sells to, their scenes reveal Lou’s physiology. One specific scene in a Mexican restaurant will make you squirm. Yet ultimately, it’s his hiring of Riz Ahmed’s Rick that allows the sociopath colors to run free. But is that all he is?
Gilroy’s script wins here, but one too many music cues dampen the impact of the first rate performances. Gyllenhaal’s slight gauntness make his features more pronounced and his big grin seep with creepiness. Gilroy uses him well in close ups and thankfully doesn’t ever try to explain or rationalize his behavior with a silly back-story. Ultimately, what’s provocative about Nighcrawler is what the film asks the audience. Are we complicit in this exploitation? How close is too close? What are the lines of journalistic ethics? Do they even exist now…can we reset them?