Writer Dan Gilroy takes his first shot in the director's chair for Nightcrawler, and there's no point in me beating about the bush here; I can't wait to see what he does next.
Anchored by a central performance from Jake Gyllenhaal that ranks up there with one of his very best, if not THE best, this is a film that beats with the dark, cold heart of movies such as Ace In The Hole, Sweet Smell Of Success, Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy and To Die For. It's about the manipulation of news in search of ratings, it's about people who don't care about the cost of getting ahead, and it's about (in a way) attaining a certain celebrity status. Many may debate this last point, but I feel justified in including it, considering how the central character measures his success according to the amount of his footage used on TV.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's backtrack ever so slightly.
Gyllenhaal is Louis Bloom, a young man who tries to present himself to everyone as a potential model employee, a real go-getter with an unimpeachable work ethic. Yet, he doesn't seem to be having much luch in his job search. Perhaps it's due to the way in which he could quickly kill someone in between him and his goal. Never one to be disheartened for too long, Louis finds himself hatching a new career plan when he witnesses an accident, and the people quickest to arrive on the scene to film the carnage. The nightcrawlers. It's not long until Louis is arming himself with a camera and setting out to do better, and get closer, than anyone else in town. He makes a valuable contact (Rene Russo) at a local news station, he hires an employee (Riz Ahmed) and he starts to film some grisly stuff, at times even changing some details to make his film more impactful.
Nightcrawler could just as easily have been called Skincrawling, because that is how you'll probably be feeling as you watch it. This is a film that makes you want to shower and then enjoy some UV light once the end credits have rolled. The script and direction by Gilroy both work to immerse you in the world of Bloom, a world in which events are viewed not through normal eyes, but through slightly detached cameras always looking for the best framing and angles.
Ahmed is great as the young man who starts to have doubts about his new job once he sees the mounting potential dangers, Russo makes the most of her best role in years (she really deserves more work, her performance here quickly assures viewers that she wasn't just picked because of being married to Gilroy), and Bill Paxton reminds you of why he's been getting solid supporting roles for so many years. But this is Gyllenhaal's movie from the first scene to the last. He's unnerving, intense, self-deluded, and yet also able to lay on the charm when in polite company. It's a performance that stands out as the highlight of his career so far, which is no small feat when you think of the body of work that he's already amassed.
Not a comfortable viewing, nor should it be, this is a dark character study. It's also a study of that morbid curiosity that is being catered to more and more in a time of increasing news sensationalism, the ability to instantly upload footage caught on recording devices, and the constant pushing of boundaries by different media outlets.