Nightcrawler is a Good Kind of Sick

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Jake Gyllenhaal filming an accident in NIghtcrawler.

The thriller Nightcrawler could be called retro — in a few ways. For one, the main character, Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is reminiscent of early Robert DeNiro. And, the entire movie seems like something Martin Scorcese would have made in the 1970s.

Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Bloom is similar to the Robert De Niro who liked to play sociopaths — but not the scary, villainy kind of sociopath normally seen in movies. Rather, the kind of quiet, self contained sociopath viewers slightly sympathize with but is incredibly uncomfortable being around because they know he is going to blow. It’s a hard vibe to pull off, especially since De Niro sort of made it his thing, but Gyllenhaal makes it look effortless.

We’re first introduced to Lou Bloom while he’s cutting off the chain links in fences to sell to a scrap yard. While there, he tries to convince the man in charge to give him a job. He fails. On his way back to his apartment, he passes a car accident. While pulled over to look at it, a camera crew rushes past him to film the wreckage. Their goal is to take the footage to news stations to sell. It’s a sick and twisted way to make a living. Lou Boom is a sick and twisted person. The job fits him like a glove. After raising the money to buy a camera, he starts to get footage for a news station run by Nina (Rene Russo in a career best performance, although that’s not saying much). Lou turns out to be pretty good at his job. A little too good. Soon, Lou begins to thin the line between an observer and a partaker.

After the uncanny similarities between Gyllenhaal and De Niro, the reason he felt like an old De Niro character was because this was the kind of movie Martin Scorsese would have made in the 70’s with De Niro. It’s dark, both tonally and literally, since it takes place almost entirely at night. It’s got several shocking scenes, both with and without violence. And it has the quiet sociopath who fills both the protagonist and antagonist role. This could easily be seen as a lost movie in Scorsese’s and De Niro’s resume, right between Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Now, to say Dan Gilroy (the writer/director of Nightcrawler) is the next Scorsese is a huge stretch. But it is an impressive film on it’s own right, considering it’s his first film as a director.

But what really makes this movie is Gyllenhaal. He’s on a career high lately, starting with Source Code, then continuing with End of Watch, Prisoners, Enemy , and now this. His portrayal of Lou Bloom is one of the most unnerving things seen this year (right behind Enemy, another great movie he did). He’s twitchy, but not in an obvious way. Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds for this role, and it shows, giving him a look like someone pulled his skin too tight over his face. His eyes are always wide open and he rarely seems to move them, instead, he turns his head in the position he wants to look. He also doesn’t talk in sentences like a normal person. He talks in long monologues that express all his thoughts on whatever he’s talking about. These monologues all sound pre-rehearsed, and for all we know, they just might be. He’s exactly the kind of person who would do that. And he has this slick, greasy, unclean feel to his personality. If anyone ever met him in real life, they would wash their hands immediately afterwards, regardless if they shook his hand or not.

Another big surprise while watching Nightcrawler is the fact it is a mainstream, wide-release thriller. It doesn’t feel like it, and in a very good way. Most mainstream thrillers these days are too action heavy. Nightcrawler isn’t. Sure, there are a few action scenes, but they’re brief and far between. It’s actually very dialogue heavy. And that’s a good thing, because Gilroy writes good dialogue. He fleshes out all the characters in several extended talking scenes, but makes sure to keep the pace up and not to let it drag. It uses these scenes to build the tension, which Gilroy does like a pro. The last 20 minutes of this movie are some of the most exhilarating movie minutes ever seen, because Gilroy had built up the tension so much it is painful to watch in the best possible way.

Nightcrawler is a rare mainstream thriller to see these days. It’s tense, well written and directed, expertly acted, and ultimately, unforgettable. And while it probably won’t (and didn’t) win a lot of awards, it doesn’t need to. All it needs to do is convince studio executives to give Dan Gilroy the money to do more movies like this. And here’s hoping they do.

 

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