Film Review: Nightcrawler (★★½)

nightcrawler_ver2EDITOR FILM REVIEW: Comparisons to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” flooded the internet and Twitter-sphere when Dan Gilroy’s anticipated thriller Nightcrawler premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.  An interesting and intriguing story bounds the character piece, helmed by another bravura performance by Jake Gyllenhaal.  However, beats and motivations are missed in stitching together, what could have been, a new realm of sensation for young movie lovers.

Nightcrawler tells the story of Lou Bloom, an eccentric young man who stumbles across the career of freelance photography in Los Angeles.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy assembles a real and stimulating character in Lou Bloom.  An enigma of desire and inspiration, Lou scours the streets of Los Angeles looking for his core purpose.  Gilroy offers little to no back story of his current situation or why he is ultimately the way he is.  For some characters in movie history, names like “The Driver” from Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” to come to mind, the violence and anger are buried deep and explode within a moment’s notice.  For Lou, things are well within his expressions and behavior.  He acts peculiar and in situations when he’s interacting with other people, it’s hard to believe that anyone would accept his behavior as anything but normal.  Lou begins to take his new profession to darkened levels of human nature, but there’s no visible bridge to his resolution.  I didn’t really buy the story.  I believe there was much more to explore and at 117 minutes, there was more than enough time to find those things.  From his interaction with a news director in a local station, played strikingly by Rene Russo, to his end goal, it can come off like more like Macaulay Culkin in “The Good Son” than anyone else in cinema history.

nightcrawlerFrom the visible flaws of the story, you cannot fault the brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal.  He fires his acting chops on all cylinders.  Just one year after delivering his best work in Denis Villenueve’s “Prisoners,” he comes back to show another example of being one of the best actors in the business.  While his work is nowhere in the realm of “Taxi Driver” level, Nightcrawler can easily be his equivalent of “American Psycho.”  His dedication to the character is undeniable, rich and alarming, he makes the most from what he’s given.  The young college frat-guy will probably worship the performance for years to come, calling him an icon for a new generation.  I’m fine with that but I dare someone of Gyllenhaal’s caliber to do better, and reach higher.  I think at this juncture, he is playing the cards exactly right, and within reason, find himself in serious contention again for awards recognition.  His work in Nightcrawler is awards worthy for sure, he’ll just need stay clear of pigeon-holing himself into the dark, tormented character in a movie.

Where the message is missed in Gilroy’s script, he makes up for in his directorial style.  With a résumé that includes “Two for the Money,” “Real Steel,” and “The Bourne Legacy,” I was weary about what something like this will look like on-screen.  Nightcrawler very much feels like a film from the early 90’s.  A twenty-minute or so sequence of a shootout and police chase will bring your pulse to a dangerous level.  I’d love to see what he can do with a full-out action picture (with a good script).  His choice of James Newton Howard as his composer will seem so strange on paper, but will heighten the film’s core to a new level.  It’s his most textured and potent score since “The Dark Knight.”

Cinematographer Robert Elswit frames the film to impeccable, especially with a character who often talks about framing.  He matches the darkly tuned outlook on humanity, as thought by the film’s central character, to the mysterious and murky streets of Los Angeles in the evening.

Supporting players Riz Ahmed, as the perplexed employee, and Bill Paxton, as a rival nightcrawler, are both solidly executed.  Rene Russo has always been an actress of considerable talents.  Arguably, she should have found herself in an awards conversation once or twice over (I will always cherish her heartbroken wife in “Ransom”).  As a desperate and fiery news director, she finds a niche for herself.  Memorable, and even managing to steal focus in scenes shared with the stoic Gyllenhaal, Russo puts forth a fascinating and honest performance.

Nightcrawler is bold.  I’ll give it that much.  It looks at the news industry with a focal point on the ugly.  It’s interesting how this film will stand next to films like “Gone Girl” that share a similar theme.  From the distance, it can look like the mutated cousin of something like “Broadcast News” or “Network.”   When you come in closer, you’ll see something semi-fresh but ultimately quite defective.

Nightcrawler opens in theaters on October 31.