Saturday, December 6, 2014
Blinding neon light and thick smog choke Los Angeles. People drive along the endless labyrinth of roads and interstates to get where they are going. The destination is not important. Not now. They are oblivious to the fate that has already befell them. A bump in the road, an extra drink at dinner, a reckless teenager coming home from a house party. The sparks are visible, the screaming cuts through the thick night air, the steel on the iron horse grows hot. The car flips. All they see is red covering asphalt. How did this happen? A light shines from somewhere above, they look up. Am I dying? A face. Gaunt, focused, horrifying. Whatever it is it cannot be human. It's red eyes glare down at them like two coins made of molten lead. It is the face of the devil, and it is the hour of judgement. "If you're seeing me, you're having the worst day of your life." This devil is Louis Bloom, the main character of Dan Gilroy's debut film, Nightcrawler. A type of cameraman who films disasters as they happen and sells the footage to television stations. He is determined and fierce. Focus like a laser beam. Bloom has the feral look and inherent loneliness of Travis Bickle in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver, but he has the sickening drive and sociopathic tendencies of Daniel Plainview in Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Bloom is a hard working maniac fueled by some severely perverted ideas and a need to annihilate the competition. He's Michael Corleone with a camcorder. A malicious grim reaper stalking the streets of LA. Where there is trouble, Lou Bloom is there. With Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy has crafted a slick, cynical, and over-the-top satire that parallels films like Network. It is massively entertaining, emanating a kinetic energy that keeps a viewer totally sucked in. It's frightening and powerful. Most of the film's muscle comes from Jake Gyllenhaal's performance as the crazed protagonist. Gyllenhaal has been steadily rising as an actor in recent years, being the standout in films like End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy, and many others. Nightcrawler may be his best yet. Hell, I would even go as far as to say he gives the very best performance of the year. Bug eyed, emaciated, and greasy, Gyllenhaal creates a palpable persona totally his own. He owns the movie like no other actor could. Nightcrawler is a very good movie in many ways, but Gyllenhaal looms over everything like some kind of freakish God, truly inhabiting the role. He is so transcendent here, it's much easier to forgot the movies flaws, which it has a few of. This is Gilroy's first movie, and you can see him occasionally struggling. As I mentioned above, Nightcrawler is a film of many influences. At times, you can see Gilroy leaning too much on them for support. There were a few scenes that seemed directly taken out of Taxi Driver and There Will Be Blood. It's hard to ignore, and does hinder the film at times. Gilroy is working with a few themes here. Media and how we as a society treat it, the bastardization of the American Dream, and greed. He does struggle to really go in depth with some of them, and the movie definitely could have benefited from some more fleshing out. Yet, I still cannot deny how crazy, entertaining, and energetic the film is. Robert Elswit does a fantastic job with the cinematography here. The movie looks great, and there are some landscape shots of LA that are downright haunting. Oscar worthy stuff. It's a wonderfully creepy tapestry of neo-noir and character study. Gilroy has made a good film here. Gyllenhaal has made a great one. Nightcrawler portrays a dark, morally ambiguous, pre-apocalyptic world of greed and evil. It is a fear-inducing world much too close to our own. And one I wouldn't mind visiting again.