Director: Dan Gilroy
Major Players: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
Out Of Five: 4
The weeks after the end of The London Film Festival can be something of a dead zone on the release schedule – but a great time for a film to get noticed. It still has to be worth seeing, which made it the perfect time to launch Nightcrawler on an unsuspecting British public last year.
Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut created massive excitement, not just because of all the weight Jake Gyllenhaal lost to play the lead role, but because of his performance – described by some as his Taxi Driver – and the whole concept of the film, an audacious mix of thriller and horror with a slice of satire thrown in. And now it’s out on DVD.
Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is down on his luck and out of work. By accident, he stumbles on the murky world of video news gathering – stringers who monitor the police despatch system at night to find dramatic incidents and then film them to sell to TV stations. He has a natural aptitude, establishes a connection with one of the smaller stations in LA and his business flourishes. Then he starts to set the agenda himself – and that includes creating the news.
Although Gyllenhaal didn’t get a much-expected Oscar nod for Best Actor – BAFTA thought otherwise – the film itself was up for the Best Original screenplay and it’s a script that mixes sharp dialogue with Bloom’s extraordinary monologues. They bear no relation to Joyce’s Ulysses, despite the two main characters sharing a similar name, and instead make him sound like he’s swallowed some business management websites and is simply re-gurgitating them. It’s not a natural way to talk but, as he’s a sociopath, he doesn’t see business as something that involves people. They only become relevant when he wants something and they provide the means to get it.
The film’s satirical spotlight is focused fair and square on the media. A popular and obvious target, but this time it’s purely TV news, how it obtains its stories and manipulates them to fit its own agenda. Bloom, of course, is a perfect fit, as his does the same, not only with the footage he supplies but also in his relationship with TV news editor, Renee Russo. Their scenes together rapidly become something akin to a drug dealer and a customer – and she’s most definitely the addict, unable to resist what he brings to the station as it’s essentially saving her career. And he takes full advantage.
The night-time setting, with its darkness and starkly contrasting neon lights, adds to the atmosphere and suspense of the film, both overall and in terms of the set pieces, which include a great final car chase. And, as the film progresses, Bloom’s behaviour gets more and more amoral and the audience is increasingly fascinated, wanting to see exactly how far he will go. As he explains to some new recruits, he would never ask somebody working for him to do something he wouldn’t do himself. The trouble is, there’s nothing he wouldn’t do.
Gyllenhaal is as excellent as everybody said when the film was released, a creature of the night with massive, almost ghoulish eyes to see in the dark and the shadows where he lurks. He’s an extension of his camera, moving in a sinewy, almost reptilian way and he’s a CSI’s worst nightmare. Not that he’s the only great character. There’s Russo, of course, and Bill Paxton as an experienced, cynical nightcrawler who ends up paying dearly for mocking Bloom while he learns his trade.
Dan Gilroy was best known as a screenwriter (The Bourne Legacy, Two For The Money) before this first stab at directing. After making such a stunning debut with this morbidly fascinating hybrid, he’ll need to choose his next project behind the camera with great care. My breath is well and truly bated.
Nightcrawler is out now on DVD.