Film Review: Nightcrawler

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Plot: An unemployed loner (Jake Gyllenhaal) tries his hand at news production as a cameraman trying to capture accidents and crime in Los Angeles. After some success, Louis takes more dangerous risks that may bring about trouble with the law and his own partner (Riz Ahmed).

If there’s one crucial element you need to know about Nightcrawler, it’s that Jake Gyllenhaal has the ability to make his eyes really wide. Holy crap, how are they not popping out of his eye socket? We’ll get to Jake Gyllenhall as he is the true star of this movie, but there’s plenty to like all around in Nightcrawler. This is a weird, dark, and even funny at times look at not only news, but a character study of a total sociopath. The idea of bloodthirsty news hounds only searching for violence and chaos is nothing new. We’ve seen this theme hammered home hundreds of times, but Nightcrawler at least provides a great script to go along with it. While a tired storyline, they certainly weren’t lazy with it. Despite all the heavy subtext though, the “heart” of this movie is Louis Bloom, played flawlessly by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick
Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick

Gyllenhaal plays an awkwardly driven go-getter who’s looking for any career that will have him. He finds it in video news production. The first half of this movie was just okay. Honestly, it’s just following around this weird guy. While there’s some well-written material between him and his employer (Rene Russo), the movie wasn’t grabbing me. I get that you don’t necessarily like this guy, but you are supposed to be engaged in what he’s doing. It wasn’t until Louis took a truly dangerous turn where the movie really starts to heat up. Once this big event happens, the movie has you.

Gyllenhaal’s performance has you from the start though. The best way to describe Louis Bloom is that he’s a grimier, dirtier version of Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerburg from The Social Network. He talks like him, but his words are more vague and general, whereas Zuckerberg was very specific. Aside from his big ass eyes, Gyllenhaal gives a very calculated performance. It’s almost as if his expression remains the same throughout the whole film, and I mean that as a huge compliment. While in the first half he’s kind of funny but also detestable, he becomes even more immoral as the film goes on. He’s also the classic character you love to hate, and that’s why this movie ultimately works. It’s a creepy, scary, yet very charismatic performance that will garner Oscar talk.

They also give Louis a couple solid relationships to play off of. Rene Russo is great as Nina, a down-on-her-luck news director who’s desperate for Louis’ controversial material. The two of them have a fascinating relationship that involves playful banter, blackmail, threats, admiration, and plenty of other themes I’m probably not remembering. Gyllenhaal and Russo have fantastic chemistry.

Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick
Photo Credit: Chuck Zlotnick

The other major relationship is with Louis’ partner Rick (Ahmed), a young guy who’s desperate and completely broke. The banter between them is both funny and sad in how Louis takes advantage of him. While interesting at times, this relationship wasn’t nearly developed well enough. It plays such a crucial role at the end, but it doesn’t have the impact you wish it did. Ahmed does an okay job, but instead of drawn out comedic dialogue between the two on their salaries, this relationship needed more meat and conflict.

Despite the film’s inconsistencies, and a score that makes the tone hard to determine at times, the good elements are firing on all cylinders. While Louis and Nina make their share of questionable moral decisions, you also understand where they’re coming from. They work in an ugly business. Louis definitely shows his true colors by the end of the movie, and has a great last line. The third act progresses beautifully, even if it is predictable. Another character they bring in is a detective (Michael Hyatt) who gives the film much needed humanity. This is a tight script, but it’s Gyllenhaal’s almost Joker-like disposition that is worth the price of admission.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

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Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.