When I heard that there was going to be new movie in theaters called Nightcrawler, I got extremely excited. After all, what’s not to love about everyone’s favorite blue-furred, elf-eared, demon-tailed teleporting X-Man? I love that guy!
Sadly, Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir crime thriller has nothing to do with mutants. Fortunately, it is one of the best movies of the year and one that I’m very glad that I went out of my way to see. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a character that I believe will come to be revered as one of the greatest villain protagonists in film history as the movie gains more awareness. Louis is one of the more unsavory characters I can recall in recent film; he is a thief, a manipulator and con-man, and a murderer. Sociopathic and narcissistic, he is a character that is incredibly easy to dislike, but Jake’s performance and natural charisma also make it almost impossible to keep one’s eyes away from Bloom.
The film is set in Los Angeles and has one of the more original plots that I can recall. When Bloom is unable to scrape by with thieving and cannot secure an honest job, he is suddenly hit with a bolt of inspiration when he sees a freelance film crew documenting a car crash. Their intent is to sell the footage to the highest bidding local news channel; after all, violence and crime draw people’s attention and thus ratings. Realizing that he can strike a goldmine with this method of self-employment, Lou steals a bike and sells it for a camcorder, cons a desperate young man named Rick into becoming his assistant, and starts his career as a “stringer”, or as the movie indirectly titles him, a Nightcrawler.
I think what sets this film apart from others is that it is unafraid to play against audiences expectations of morality. Generally, a protagonist is somebody who is essentially a good person; they may be rough around the edges but they have some line that they will not cross. Louis Bloom is the protagonist of this movie, but he is not a hero and not even an anti-hero. This is just a story about a horrible but captivating person who is willing to cross any line in order to be successful. That isn’t entirely new ground for a film, but I can’t think of many where a villain protagonist doesn’t endure any consequences whatsoever for his actions. Bloom is never arrested or killed and he doesn’t have anyone he cares about to lose; this is the story of his success. It’s just an ugly, reprehensible road to success.
The movie even cleverly uses swelling, triumphant music to manipulate the audience into rooting for Louis at his most vile moments. The film’s mood is established early on; it is clearly a neo-noir film that actually would probably be very effective if watched in black and white. Stylistically and narratively, it has most of the trademarks; only the femme fatale is missing because one of Lou’s defining characteristics is his own seductive nature. He’s able to coerce people into helping him and that just makes him all the more devilish. Watching Lou’s career as a stringer play out before us is not unlike the car crashes he is filming; horrible and tragic, but captivating in a morose way.
I do feel that Nghtcrawler is lacking in some critical areas though. As a character study, the main character is well defined and memorable, but most other characters are one dimensional and uninteresting, serving more like plot devices than actual people. It doesn’t ruin the film, but it is a noticeable flaw in the screenwriting and directing. Gilroy is a first time director and will likely improve in this category, but he should still be applauded for making a movie as good as Nightcrawler in his debut as a major director.
The one word that I would use to describe this film is “fresh”; it isn’t the best movie I have ever seen, but it feels new and different and is thus more engaging and thrilling than some other films that may be better put together. Gyllenhaal’s performance with the character is clearly the best thing in the film, and I feel that he was majorly snubbed by most award committees who should have at least nominated him. If you are in the mood for something different, or just want to see a great actor sink his teeth into a meaty role, Nightcrawler has you covered.