Gyllenhaal outshines everything else in ‘Nightcrawler’

by Trevan McGee on October 31, 2014

in Print Reviews,Reviews

Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an intense, magnetic performance that is the highlight of Nightcrawler, the directoral debut from writer Dan Gilroy. The film follows Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom, a disconnected loaner who stumbles into the world of on-the-scene video journalism. Bloom is a quick study, as we witness him learn the seedy business of chasing down accidents and getting the perfect shot for a “if it bleeds, it leads” Los Angeles station that is firmly in third place.

There are pangs of Taxi Driver in Nightcrawler. Both are windows into the minds of certifiably insane people. Both make half-hearted, vague commentaries on broad topics – violence in the case of Taxi Driver, the news media in the case of Night Crawler. Both feature stirring performances from the lead character that causes the rest of the performances to fade into the background. But maybe the most accurate parallel are the films’ climaxes, both of which drop any pretense of admonishing their characters’ bad deeds and instead revel in it.

The biggest problem with Nightcrawler is that Gilroy can’t decide what kind of movie he wants to make. At times, it’s a pulpy, highly stylized genre movie focused on the gory details of the accidents and the crime scenes Bloom explores. Other times, it’s a thinly veiled commentary on the state of the media and the inscrutable nature of on-the-scene/disaster reporting as a cottage industry. It never really commits to either, which is frustrating, as it gets close to satire before backing away.

One thing that is a constant throughout Nightcrawler is its top-notch cinematography thanks to Robert Elswit. Nightcrawler is awash with bright colors, incredible nighttime lighting and a car chase that is one of the best assembled, tense moments in a movie this year. Shots are dynamic without being overdone. Every shot in the TV station teems with activity. Screens in the background serve as windows into what’s going on around the station, scenes in the control room give access to what’s happening on the floor. There’s a great attention to detail that serves the movie impeccably well.

It’s unfortunate that the rest of Nightcrawler couldn’t have been as focused or polished. It’s a decent genre film with a truly remarkable performance and a narrative that fails to ever fully crystalize.

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