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Friday, October 31, 2014

Review: Nightcrawler

Louis Bloom is a hard worker. He's persistent and punctual, and maybe the quickest learner you'll ever meet. His personality can be a little intense at times, but there's more than a little charm in his quick wit and business savvy. He is quite possibly the ultimate employee, the expert interviewee.

He is also morally repugnant, slimy, and quite possibly wanted by the police for questioning...but you can't look away.

This weekend sees the long awaited release of Dan Gilroy's directorial debut, Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Gilroy also wrote the screenplay, as he's done for such films as The Bourne Legacy and Real Steel

Nightcrawler follows the above mentioned Louis Bloom for a short period of his life in Los Angeles. He's extremely intelligent and willing to work, but finds himself stealing scrap metal for a living until he finds a new calling, that of nightcrawling, which entails chasing down crime scenes with a camera and selling the footage to the highest bidding news station. Over time, this odd job begins to pay off with Bloom's intense tenacity, but to get the really good stuff, he and his semi-homeless employee Rick (Riz Ahmed) have to get into increasingly dangerous and ethically compromising positions–which doesn't seem to bother Bloom in the least.

Gyllenhaal pulls off nothing short of a career best here. He plays Bloom with such unending confidence and purpose that it's impossible not to find yourself utterly fascinated with the man. There will no doubt be comparison's to Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman, but there's something even more uncomfortably attractive about Gyllenhaal's charismatic performance. He's equal parts inspiring and frighteningly sociopathic, and while a lot of that comes from the tight script, Gyllenhaal's performance is what I'm certain will make Nightcrawler a cult classic.

Gilroy has created an extreme, but not wholly unbelievable take on modern life. To get any job now, you have to be impossibly qualified: you can't just be skilled at one thing, and you often have to work for free or next to nothing for long periods of time before being trusted with anything serious. Bloom is the epitome of what is expected at most job interviews: he's got all the right answers, straight from all the online courses he's taken, and while he's willing to start at the bottom and work hard, he'll seize an opportunity by the throat when he gets the chance. It's incredibly captivating to watch, and the fact that we don't get a narration or any kind of history on Bloom makes him all the more interesting.

In addition to the performance, direction, and writing, the film is pretty impressive from a technical perspective as well. The cinematography by Robert Elswit, known for shooting most of P.T. Anderson's movies among many others, is creepy and unique, capturing a side L.A. and a tone that just doesn't feel quite right. The editing by John Gilroy (Dan's twin brother, interestingly) is sharp; along with Bloom's enthusiasm, the fast-paced cuts create an excitement and tension that place you right in the middle of the disturbing action. James Newton Howard's score, while sometimes a little too action-movie-esque (especially the end credit song), uses its surreal ambiences not unlike Drive's score to contrast nicely with the sometimes horrific visuals.

Which actually ties in with one of the more interesting things about Nightcrawler: it doesn't seem to judge it's protagonist. For the most part, the framing does not look down on Bloom, and the script often only hints at some of the more truly immoral acts, letting your imagination fill in the gruesome gaps. The music, too, mostly avoids darkly dramatic themes; it seems to be scoring Bloom's inner life rather than our view of him, which lends his victories a sense of glory and inspiration. In many ways, the film is a biting and extreme satire on the kind of news we want to see, despite our protestations: as Nina, the news director (played expertly by Rene Russo) says, "Picture our ideal story as this: a wealthy white woman running down the street screaming with her throat cut." In this sense, Bloom is only a product of our time, the inevitable and perfect end to the world we've created, so it only makes sense that the film not judge him for his actions. 

Nightcrawler is not a timeless masterpiece, but it may be a masterpiece for our time. Gilroy expertly draws the audience into this unconventional story, and Gyllenhaal's performance is one that will be studied and talked about for years to come. There's a real connection to the current state of affairs that instantly makes Louis Bloom interesting–there are many out there desperate to get a job or stuck in a low paying one despite their qualifications–but the character himself is absolutely absorbing. If you aren't totally engrossed trying to unravel the mysterious Bloom, the masterful storytelling and compelling narrative will keep you glued to the screen, waiting and watching as things get worse–or better, if you're Louis Bloom.

Verdict: For Immediate Consumption!
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