Film Review: Nightcrawler


Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Dan Gilroy’s chilling thriller

Last weekend, as I sat amongst plethora of film bloggers and movie critics, the film on everyone’s lips was Nightcrawler. Dan Gilroy’s satirical thriller about the media’s exploitation of human suffering is hyped as one of this year’s must-see films of the year… and it’s not hard to understand why. 

Nightcrawler tells the story of Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an opportunist young man who is desperate for work. One night, Bloom stumbles upon the high-speed underground world of “Nightcrawlers”, freelance crime journalists who roam the streets of L.A. filming crashes, fires, murder and other crimes to sell to the TV networks. The phrase “if it bleeds, it leads” should give you an idea of where this is going.

Fascinated by what he sees, Bloom buys himself a cheap camcorder and a radio and sets up his own business with naive assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed). But it isn’t long before the lines between observer and participant start to blur as Bloom starts to manipulate crime scenes to become the star of his own story.

Nightcrawler-PosterWritten and directed by Dan Gilroy (the man behind the screenplay for The Bourne Legacy with his brother Tony), Nightcrawler is a deep, dark and damning portrait of the media’s sick and insatiable appetite for human suffering. Whilst the subtext themes of voyeurism, moral decline and media responsibility are by no means new (think Network and Broadcast News), the film’s true genius lies in the sick, outlandish lengths the main character goes to play the system. Gilroy’s script is darkly comic and very much character driven. Add to this a hypnotic electronic score from James Newton Howard and impeccable cinematography by Robert Elswit and Nightcrawler begins to crawl under your skin.

Jake Gyllenhaal puts in a terrific performance as Louis Bloom, the slick and hungry sociopath perched on the edge of hysteria. The actor lost lots of weight for the part, his wire-thin frame, gaunt face and sunken eyes giving the character his ghoulish look. The scene where he manipulates TV news director Nina during their so-called date is particularly chilling. Gyllenhaal is almost frightening as he dissects Nina’s career, wielding information like a weapon as he calmly explains why she needs his footage and therefore why she must sleep with him. It’s his best career performance since Donnie Darko and arguably, his best to date.

Rene Russo is equally superb as the straight-talking TV-news producer Nina who is desperate to boost ratings in order to keep her job. Her performance as the tabloid mogul hungry for sensation is deliciously disturbing and is her meatiest role since The Thomas Crown Affair. “Think of our newscast as a screaming woman, running down the street with her throat cut” she advises, as she hands Bloom a cheque for his first job.

Overall, the film has been well received in the press. Yahoo! Movies described it as “fast-paced, character-driven and creepy” while Total Film called Gyllenhaal “sensational”. 

Dark, disturbing and dangerously beautiful, Nightcrawler is a tense, pulse-pounding thriller with a sickening climax. An impressive directorial debut for Gilroy and an exceptional performance by Gyllenhaal.

4 out of 5 stars

Nightcrawler is released in UK cinemas on 31 October.