Prior to its original 50-second-long teaser trailer, I had never heard of NIGHTCRAWLER. In that 50 seconds, though, I became spellbound. In the trailer, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character of Lou Bloom sat on a chair and talked directly to the camera — to us — about how he’s looking for a job and that his motto is, “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.” His charisma and smooth talking bring you in and don’t let you go until suddenly — BAM! — Lou snaps and you’re snapped back into the real world. I still had no clue what NIGHTCRAWLER was about after that teaser, but I knew one thing for certain: it just became one of my must-see films of the year.
First-time director Dan Gilroy — brother of BOURNE franchise writer Tony Gilroy (Tony serves as producer on this film) — has been around for over two decades as a screenwriter. He’s written fighting robots in REAL STEEL, THE BOURNE LEGACY and Tarsem’s THE FALL. He’s clearly a talented individual with a broad range of storytelling. With his screenplay for NIGHTCRAWLER, though, he’s finally found his true calling because it’s easily one of the best films of the year.
The film follows Gyllenhaal’s Bloom as he seeks employment, thieving off of the unknown to make ends meet until he finds a job. With his sharp-dressed lanky frame, square jawline and slicked-back hair, Bloom sweet-talks every possible employer that he comes across until he drives by a car crash and stumbles into the life of nightcrawling (aka crime journalism).
After stealing a bicycle and pawning it off for an ancient camcorder and police scanner, Bloom speeds through the lit-up streets of L.A. in his beat-up car, desperately looking for the next horrific scene to film. When his scanner brings him to a shooting, Bloom steps over the boundaries, angering police officers and fellow nightcrawlers so he can get up close and personal with the gory sight. By doing so, he sells his first piece of footage and begins his new career as one of the biggest slimeballs in Los Angeles.
NIGHTCRAWLER is a strange film in the sense that you follow an individual that you hate from the very beginning, yet you don’t want to look away because you’re intrigued by which crappy thing he’ll do to someone next. Lou is an absolute dirtbag and he disgusts you to your very core, yet there’s almost something admirable about his work ethic. I really can’t remember the last time I watched a film where I couldn’t take my eyes off of the antagonist. I hate Lou Bloom, but I love him at the same time thanks to Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of the character… and what an incredible portrayal it is.
I’m saying it right now: Jake Gyllenhaal better receive a Best Actor nomination at next year’s Oscars. His performance here is absolutely riveting! In NIGHTCRAWLER, Gyllenhaal does for Lou Bloom what the late Heath Ledger did for The Joker in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I’ve always liked Gyllenhaal as an actor, but I never realized how truly phenomenal he can be. With his role here, he’s quickly slingshot himself into my list of favorite actors alive today. Honestly, I can’t stop thinking of this film because of Gyllenhaal’s performance.
The supporting actors were all great, too. Bill Paxton pops up as veteran nightcrawler Joe Lodor, giving one of his finer Paxtonesque performances (I’ll never forget the time he pulled Jo aside to tell her how tornadoes don’t jump houses — or his classic “game over, man; game over” — or when he called a giant gorilla a “big beluga”). Joe’s been used to doing things his own way for over a decade, so its safe to say that he doesn’t exactly get along with Bloom when he joins the crime journalism scene. The rivalry between them is enjoyable to watch and I often found myself backing up Joe whenever things became heated between the two.
Riz Ahmed was exceptional in his role as Rick, Bloom’s co-pilot throughout the night. I consistently felt bad for the character as he was often treated as a welcome mat to Bloom’s dirty feet. I couldn’t get past this feeling that it felt like Rick was Pedro to Bloom’s Napoleon Dynamite, though. I don’t know why I felt that way, but I couldn’t shake it off. Nevertheless, Ahmed was great in the role and I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes open for future films starring him.
Rene Russo is the shining star amongst the supporting actors here. She’s in top form as TV news chief Nina Romina. It was great seeing Russo in a strong role again. Her roles over the past few years — such as the one in both THOR films — have felt like filler roles where she’s never truly been able to cut loose. Here, though, I was brought back to the good ol’ days of the LETHAL WEAPON films where Russo portrayed a tough, take-no-s**t-from-anyone female character. I can only assume that Gilroy — who’s been married to Russo since the early ‘90s — wrote this role for his wife in particular and I’m so glad that he did. Her chemistry with Gyllenhaal was perfect and I really felt for her character even though her morals were completely ass-backwards. It was great to see the return of tour de force Rene Russo.
While I’ve seen that the score from James Newton Howard has received some slack in other reviews, I personally loved it here. Howard’s been one of my favorite composers for quite some time (his chilling score for SIGNS will always be memorable to me), so when I saw his name within the opening credits of the films, my interest definitely piqued. For NIGHTCRAWLER, I found the score to be quite amazing. Some have said that it doesn’t fit with what’s happening onscreen, but I couldn’t disagree more. The score is the perfect companion to Lou Bloom’s thoughts and emotions. Bloom hates people and the score helps elevate that point. When he’s staring at a mutilated body, the music is happy-sounding — but when it’s someone alive and kicking that he’s staring at, the score’s happiness dissolves. Very unique and innovative stuff here from Howard.
NIGHTCRAWLER also featured some excellent cinematography and editing. Cinematographer Robert Elswit and film editor John Gilroy (yep, that’s a third Gilroy sibling — a twin to Dan, to be exact) came together to give the audience one gorgeous-looking film. At times, the film often looked like a ‘cleaner’ Tony Scott flick with its quick cuts and extreme close-ups. I really enjoyed the camerawork around Bloom’s car whenever he was driving, too.
NIGHTCRAWLER is a nearly perfect film in every single aspect, yet I find myself pondering whether it’s a film that I’d ever watch again. There’s this umbrella that I have where some excellent films have unfortunately found themselves underneath. A lot of great films have been one-and-dones for me and I’ve been debating ever since the end credits of NIGHTCRAWLER whether I’d watch it again. The replay value may not 100% be there, but the effort from both the cast and crew that went into this film is something that I truly admire. So while my mind lingers to whether this goes under my umbrella or not, I can honestly say that every single fan of film needs to at least see NIGHTCRAWLER once. It may be tough watching someone you hate for two hours, but trust me when I say that the experience will be worth it. Gyllenhaal deserves awards aplenty for his performance here and I doubt many will disagree with me once they’ve also seen the film.
Ah, look at me still thinking and talking about this flick. Maybe it won’t be going under my umbrella, after all.