Review by: JJ Mortimer
Not since Michael Mann's Collateral has the city of Los Angeles felt like an actual living, breathing character in the movie itself. Nightcrawler, from first-time director Dan Gilroy and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is a film that makes us question the methods in which newscasters gather their news, and the ambiguous moral integrity and lack of empathy in which the photographers film the footage in the City of Angels.
Gyllenhaal is fantastic as somewhat of a sociopath, a thief that finds the financial benefit (and internal titillation) of getting deep and dirty in filming the aftermath of accidents, shootings, stabbings, and other news-worthy activities under the guise of a freelance filmographer. He sells his footage to a lower-end local news studio (run by Rene Russo) and begins to find that getting even dirtier, closer, and in some cases, being amidst the crime as it is happening is worth more money than just being there after the fact. From here, we begin to see the moral implications spoken of earlier.
I went into this film knowing very little about the story. I saw one preview on television that gave very little away, and I must say that this approach to seeing a film is a great way to be genuinely surprised by it. The feel of the movie was similar not only to Collateral, but of some mid-80s crime dramas (Manhunter and To Live and Die in LA come to mind) in that it encompasses the seedy, moody nature of the city at night, and explodes in the action scenes when the time calls for it.
Nightcrawler feels very authentic, using an "outside viewer" approach in a key scene that makes the resulting action that much more pulse-pounding and shocking - and real. Gilroy's directing of his actors makes the scene feel like it's happening at real time with the resulting reactions of characters feel like news itself rather than fiction.
If anything, go to see this film for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance. There are shades of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver (one of the versions of the film's poster even shadows a similar poster of that film, putting Gyllenhaal in the foreground with his car of choice just behind him) but with a less "heroic" feel to his nature. In fact, his character "Lou" is a despicable human being, but nontheless, you can't take your eyes off of a second of his performance. His deliberate delivery and conniving-yet-intelligent nature of his character (that almost seems afflicted by Asperger's in my opinion) makes every decision and every word he speaks seem as though he's on the verge of hugging someone or sticking a knife in their back, and then not thinking twice about filming it for our news-viewing pleasure.
A fantastic movie that should be seen in the theater, but will play equally well on the small screen (which will be a huge benefit when Academy members get screeners come award nomination time).
Right up there with Gone Girl as one of the best films of the year so far, and should be a front runner for a handful of Oscar nominations. In a field of ten, I can see it being nominated for Best Picture, and should be a lock for actor and cinematography, as well as its sound design and film editing.
Unfortunately, the film isn't your typical "blockbuster" and will under-perform at the box office, potentially topping out around $40-50 million unless given a boost by potential award nominations.