This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 30th November 2014
Delivering the same carcrash thrill as watching heartthrob Ryan Gosling morph into a cold-blooded head-stomper in Drive, Nightcrawler takes goofy, sweet-natured Jake Gyllenhaal and transforms him effortlessly into Lou Bloom, a creepy, diligent oddball of a different, and arguably more sinister, kind.
An undeniably fine actor, Gyllenhaal hits his latest bullseye by pitching Bloom just one step to the right of spooky – so that rather than crossing the street to avoid him, you might stop to hear him out, even if your adrenalin starts to pump a tad quicker.
Earnest and unwavering, Bloom hones his people skills through self-improvement books and management speak, nerding away about “guestimates” and calling people “sir” in a nasally voice. Promoting himself as hard-working and persistent (boy, is he), it’s hard not to delight in Bloom’s success when he finds a career he can “really grow into”. What follows is a gloriously unsavoury walk down the dark alleys of the soul as Bloom competes with ambulance-chasing news crews for the first footage of newly broken crime scenes. But how far will he go to trump the rest?
Let’s be honest – since he broke out in Donnie Darko, who can cite a role that Gyllenhaal hasn’t performed with aplomb? From his heartrending gay cowboy in Brokeback Mountain to the reluctant US marine in Jarhead, the guy is an exemplar of that pinnacle of the actor’s lexicon: range. He’s hunted criminals in Zodiac and the recent thriller Prisoners. He charmed the pants off Anne Hathaway in Love & Other Drugs. He’s even saved the world a couple of times. So the brilliance of Nightcrawler’s screenwriter and first-time director Dan Gilroy is tempered only by our knowing that, really, if you put any script in Gyllenhaal’s hands, he will deliver.
Gilroy wrote The Bourne Legacy but little else of note until now, so the fact he has produced such an enthralling, great-looking debut feature is all the more commendable. LA’s lights gleam like a Michael Mann film, while a Reznoresque soundtrack accompanies the perfectly paced story. There have been many great LA movies where disenfranchised white males run amok, and while Bloom is cut from a different cloth to Falling Down’s William Foster, both characters have a necessary credibility to their awful desperation. As distasteful as we find their behaviour, we simply cannot tear our eyes away.
With the welcome return of Rene Russo (Gilroy’s wife) as the TV producer who may be making a deal with the devil, and comic relief provided by British actor Riz Ahmed (The Reluctant Fundamentalist), Nightcrawler is part titillation, part excoriating commentary on the commercialisation of crime in a media-frenzied world. Not until the end do we realise Bloom has worked his dark magic on us, too.