Lou Bloom is not a nice man – the very first scene of Nightcrawler (which depicts Lou attempting to steal from a construction site, attacking a security guard and stealing his watch) tells us this fairly bluntly. Yet somehow, there’s an oddly engaging and charismatic appeal to the character – an intangible sort of quality which sets the tone for the dark but appealing Nightcrawler well.
Lou’s journey into the murky, brutal and competitive world of crime journalism is far more exciting than it really has any right to be, thanks to a great script and an acting masterclass from Jake Gyllenhaal. Slimy, eccentric and downright weird, in the hands of many actors, the conflicting appeal of Lou Bloom would have been lost. Happily though, Gyllenhaal dives right in to inject a thrilling mixture of dark amusement and terrifying fervour into an increasingly bleak world.
Lou’s antics are unforgivable (stealing a racing bike then trading it at a pawn shop for film equipment, all while mischievously riding around the shop) yet the purpose behind his grisly actions is kept at the forefront by a tightly written script which rarely wastes a line, let alone an entire scene.
Gyllenhaal is obviously the stand-out then but Nightcrawler features some great break-out performances from the supporting cast too. Riz Ahmed (probably most recognisable from cult comedy Four Lions) definitely deserves a mention for his role as Rick, Lou’s somewhat reluctant assistant. He serves as a balancing act to the whole thing – as Lou’s actions grow increasingly disturbing, Rick acts as the ignored shoulder angel; watching him dig his heels in as the narrative rolls on is immensely engrossing.
All this serves as a platform to build an enthralling tale about the growing dearth of ethics in TV journalism – the exploration of these elements is almost satirical. Lou’s commissioning editor Nina Romina (Rene Russo) sums it up neatly – “to capture the spirit of what we air, think of our news cast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”. This underlying scrutiny of seedy television production is immensely thought-provoking and it constantly finds new layers to confront.
All of this would be impressive for an experienced, well-versed director – the fact that Nightcrawler serves as the directorial debut for Dan Gilroy is staggering. The slick neo-noir elements suit the film’s content well with the subtle, mystical, synth-driven soundtrack perfectly capturing the mood. Light and shadow are used beautifully throughout, effectively conveying or contrasting the increasingly erratic swings of Lou’s mind; fans of top quality cinematography will find plenty to pour over here.
A tense, exhilarating thriller which manages to be effortlessly dark and disturbing, Nightcrawler is an absolute must-watch on several levels – Gyllenhaal’s performance will rightfully be lauded for years to come but it’s the more subtle elements which really impress. The script is engaging, conflicting and sprinkles humorous lines in at the opportune moments, allowing Gilroy to craft a film that will undoubtedly be tagged as a cult classic soon enough.