Nightcrawler (2014)

NightcrawlerAn obsessive self-starter who will do just about anything to succeed, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) has been inadvertently undermining his own career for years thanks to his dogged determination. He sells stolen goods to a variety of business owners, but few are willing to hire such a shameless thief on a more official or permanent basis. When Lou observes a freelance news crew covering a car accident on his way home, however, he may have finally found a business that’s not only open to his underhand tactics but which actively encourages them. Going further than anyone else in order to get the best footage, even if it means breaking the law or betraying his friends, Lou builds a relentless but reliable reputation for himself and his budding company.

Jake Gyllenhaal certainly looks the part. The moment you are introduced to Bloom — a gaunt, greasy-haired and slightly bug-eyed creature — you are repelled by him. It’s not just his manner that is off-putting, his way of talking without listening or his over-familiar demeanor, but something in his very nature. He’s a sociopath, through and through, and his lack of empathy and general apathy clearly go beyond the more acceptable neurodevelopmental abnormalities or compulsive disorders. As with everything else, Bloom learns about journalism through the prism of the internet, but it is an incomplete education that prioritises efficacy over ethics and is immediately twisted to suit his needs.

It’s an admirable performance, intense and intelligent, but not a particularly engaging one. Bloom isn’t conflicted in the slightest, which makes his character seem prosaic and predictable. This wouldn’t be such a problem if there was an external source of conflict, but any resistance to Bloom’s progress is superficial and ultimately shortlived. Once you have Bloom mapped out you inevitably look elsewhere for stimulus, and to begin with Rene Russo (and later Riz Ahmed’s apprentice Rick) seems to offer a glimmer of hope, of humanity, of emotional complexity. Both do good work — Russo in particular is electric in the editing suit — but ultimately they prove helpless in the face of Bloom’s manipulations and machinations. There is no tension in Nightcrawler, nothing at stake and nobody to support, and for a film posing as a thriller that is a real issue.

It’s a far cry from The Bang Bang Club, anyway, Steven Silver’s underestimated account of photojournalists in South Africa during the nation’s Apartheid. That film — based on real events — sought to explore the role of journalist on the battlefield, the impact of their work and the toll that it took on their health and relationships. By contrast, all Nightcrawler really has to say is that news crews and their editors are invariably ruthless, devious and unscrupulous — unrepentently so — and it seems woefully simplistic as a result. There’s some style — particularly in a car chase that takes place in the third act — but no substance whatsoever. Having built no momentum and failed to establish a compelling character arc, director Dan Gilroy doesn’t seem to know how to conclude his movie — so he just chooses to end it arbitrarily after the film’s only real set piece.

Nightcrawler should be shocking, and you get the impression that Gilroy does indeed intend to make a point, but as unsettling and occasionally uncomfortable as Gyllenhaal’s performance may be the fact that nobody onscreen seems the slightest bit concerned with his attitudes or actions somewhat lessens the impact. This isn’t drama; it’s a diatribe. And a long one at that.

3-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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