Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #560
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 5, 2014 (Toronto)
Sub-Genre: Neo-Noir/Crime Fiction
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $50,300,000
Running Time: 117 minutes
Director: Dan Gilroy
Producers: Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Michel Litvak, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy
Special Effects: Joe Pancake
Visual Effects: Connor Meechan
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Score: James Newton Howard
Editing: John Gilroy
Studio: Bold Films
Distributor: Open Road Films
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Michael Hyatt, Ann Cusack, Kevin Rahm, Kathleen York, Eric Lange, Kiff VandenHeuvel, Jonny Coyne
Suggested Audio Candy
 Jetta “I’d Love To Change The World”
 CSS “Faith in Love”
How many of us slow down at roadside car wrecks? Work with me here as I’ve been stuck in a lot of traffic jams over the years and, on occasions too countless to mention, reached the front of the queue only to find that the obstruction isn’t due to cordoned off carriageways but, instead, mankind’s fascination with carnage. I hold my hands up to being just as culpable as the next man although I’m never looking to turn another person’s tragedy to my own sick advantage. Paparazzi, on the other hand, are right at the foot of my Christmas list and I despise everything that they stand for, which doesn’t amount to much other than personal gain. These freelance cameramen are traditionally vultures lacking in anything resembling virtue and will move mountains if it means grabbing that elusive money shot, regardless of whatever skulduggery is required.
However, for as much as their work ethic is often questionable to say the very least, the news networks clambering to purchase said footage are every bit as culpable in my mind. The buck doesn’t even stop with the directors of these stations either as invariably some suit is pulling the strings from an unseen vantage as all is deemed fair in ratings wars and projections must be met or heads will need to roll. Let’s not forget the doom mongers who tune into their frequency in search of kicks at other folk’s expenses. This thing stretches as far as it does wide. As for the footsoldiers, the allure of a quick buck is too strong to pass up and this involves getting the scoop by fair ways or, more often than not, foul.
One such entry-level entrepreneur is Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) who, sensing that a change of vocation would serve him well, decides to try his hand at nightcrawling. He has no experience to speak of and this means starting from the bottom rung but this doesn’t faze Louis one iota as he’s one of life’s go-getters and always searching for a fresh challenge. It sure beats selling scrap metal to keep a roof over his head anyhoots. Like any fledgling business, those first few months are critical and this will mean learning his trade on the fly. Armed only with a cut-price camera and his wits, he sets off to make his own luck, establish his one-man outfit and place Video Production News firmly on the map.
Los Angeles proves to be something of a hive of activity and there is no end of incident to capture with his roving lens. However, a few visits to Channel 6 and he soon realizes that it’s all about location. Should three black youths become embroiled in a high-speed car chase in Compton, then there is precious little reason to broadcast. Should they veer off into more monied areas, then it’s lights, camera, action and Louis is presented with a tool to bargain with and a bumper pay-day is potentially on the cards. It’s no good being a crack dealer if nobody wants to purchase your rocks and, in no-nonsense station director Nina Romina (Rene Russo), he has himself the perfect twitchy basehead.
To begin with, their relationship appears to be blossoming rather nicely. He has what she desires and this makes Louis something of a commodity. But it isn’t long before this taste of success goes straight to his dome and demands start to increase accordingly. First off is dinner and, when Nina rebuffs his advances on account of being old enough to be his mother, Louis promptly adapts his technique. Coming across as mercenary doesn’t bother him as, when push comes to shove, she needs him even more than he needs her and she damn well knows it. Moreover, he knows she knows it.
All this fieldwork is proving troublesome for Louis so he decides it is high time he employ himself a skivvy. Thus he recruits struggling nobody Rick (Riz Ahmed) on an internship and therefore halves his workload. Together they race from one crime scene to the next by the seat of Rick’s pants and his human GPS provides him a fighting chance of beating fellow stringer and bitter rival Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) to the punch and grabbing all the headlines before he can park up his van. There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition and this fierce opposition helps keep Louis on his toes. However, you also have to know your enemy and hapless Joe seems to have underestimated his opposite number. You see, Louis will stop at nothing, and I do mean nothing, to come out smelling of green bills.
Suddenly, roadside casualties don’t feel quite substantial enough and he sets his sights higher than his discomfited wingman is fully comfortable with. Why stop at roadkill when there are far worse crimes being committed in prestigious areas that could do with a little out-of-the-box fast thinking? Needless to say, things escalate and soon he is in the position to make a fresh set of demands with Nina. At what cost to those around him matters not, even when withholding crucial evidence and interfering with ongoing police investigations. In Louis’ twisted logic, you need to break a few eggs to make an omelette and poor Rick is looking increasingly oval with every ominous command given.
That Nightcrawler is California-born director Dan Gilroy’s feature film debut is nothing short of staggering. The son of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Frank D. Gilroy has become known primarily for his writing chops but handles the transition from page to screen like a seasoned veteran. He is aided in no small part by director of photography Robert Elswit who perfectly captures the uglier side of Los Angeles at night, lending the film a distinct contemporary film noir edge that serves it remarkably well. His screenplay is airtight and provides numerous gristle for its lead to chew, finding the delicate balance between making his character hateful and keeping us rooting for him, whilst never quite sure why.
However, the true star here is Gyllenhaal who takes method acting to a whole new level and throws himself into the role with more than the customary verve. The actor shed 20 pounds to play Louis as he envisaged him as something of a lean and ravenous jackal and his gaunt appearance is matched stride-for-stride by his caffeine-shot turn. I swear I only saw him blink a handful of times throughout as, if the city never sleeps, then he sees no reason to be caught napping. The result is a masterful performance that reeks of authenticity and proves, once again, that there are few professionals quite as committed to taking varied and challenging roles as he.
He’s not quite alone as veteran Russo excels as the increasingly exasperated but quietly exhilarated Nina, while Paxton couldn’t be better cast as his “healthy” competition. Not wishing to be left out, Ahmed has utter discombobulation down to pat and demands our sympathy as he goes above and beyond for the dubious cause.
All in all, Nightcrawler is a slickly produced, dynamic piece of entertainment but also far more than simply a shot in the arm. By dealing with our fixation with daily news and the lengths that some will go to in order to supply the headlines, it forces us to take a long, hard look at ourselves and what stares back at us is often some way less than encouraging. Louis is a bad person, there is no questioning that, but he is also just a supremely motivated guy who just happens to possess a camera. And, long after he’s packed up his equipment for the final time, there will be a long queue of other hopefuls desperate to fill his loafers. Besides, no news is good news right?
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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