by: Chris McCurtin
Year Released: 2014
Director: Dan Gilroy
A petty thief looking for work becomes involved in the world of freelance video journalism. In an attempt to stay ahead of the competition he finds himself blurring the lines between subject and observer.
Nightcrawler explores the world of ‘Stringers’; freelance video journalists who sell footage of crime scenes and accidents to local news stations. Operating primarily at night, stringers compete to be the first on the scene, documenting the events as they unfold or, more often than not, the brutal aftermath – murder victims, bodies strewn across highways, or the emergency services desperately helping someone cling to life. It’s a visceral subject matter and something that the film neither exploits, nor shies away from.
The film follows Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he stumbles into this world in an attempt to find work. Demonstrating a natural talent for the job, he strives to secure the most memorable and valuable footage, gaining the attention of a local news director (Rene Russo). The two develop a mutually beneficial relationship and Bloom’s ambition and commitment to securing headline-worthy footage drives him to take an increasing number of risks, eventually becoming a direct participant in the news itself.
Gyllenhaal does a great job as Lou Bloom, somehow making a guy with questionable character traits seem likeable for the most part. His quirky humour and naively eager work ethic make you root for him to succeed, even as his morals waver. This serves to make the film's finale even more tense as Bloom’s ethics are thoroughly tested, leaving you to wonder just how far he would be willing to go for footage.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of Nightcrawler is how well it serves as a critique of current trends in news reporting, particularly the exploitative use of gruesome stories/footage to draw ratings. Gyllenhaal and Russo blurring ethical boundaries in an attempt to stay ahead of the competition draw direct parallels to the increasing curation and bias within our daily news, with rampant fear mongering and subversion ever present in both. The film serves as a grim reminder of the brutal reality behind the headlines and the questionable way that this often portrayed.
When it was released, Nightcrawler quickly drew comparisons to Taxi Driver, which is understandable. Both films follow a similarly uncomfortable plot points and expertly document the slow unraveling of their lead character. Like Taxi Driver, Nightcrawler also features some beautiful night shots, capturing Los Angeles in a way that Michael Mann would be proud of. Whilst the film may not match the shock value of Taxi Driver’s climax, or the intensity of DeNiro’s performance, it is certainly a worthy companion.
Bedsit it? Absolutely. This is one of Gyllenhaal’s most consistent performances to date with a solid supporting cast and direction. The film's climax is also so uncomfortably tense that you will not want to look away. 8/10