Film Review: Nightcrawler

I suppose October 31st is close enough to November to start releasing the films that will be gunning for awards.  Today was the first time in 2014 that I saw a movie and thought ‘Wow, I can see this getting Academy Award nominations.’

That movie?  Nightcrawler.

No, it’s not a Marvel movie about Kurt Wagner.  It’s much, much weirder than that.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, the film follows his attempt to become a successful freelance cameraman.  Fortunately for him he’s a hard worker and a fast learner.

As a man without a job, Louis resorts to stealing fencing and copper wiring so that he can resell them for enough to pay the bills.  A two-bit conman, his saving grace is that he can talk and he can listen and knows when to do each.  A chance encounter with a freelance film crew (led by Bill Paxton) at the scene of an accident gives him an idea for a new job.  No boss and a potential paycheck just for getting gruesome scenes on tape?  Sounds great!

One stolen item sold to a pawn shop later and he’s on the road with a handheld camera and a police scanner.  The only problem is that the job is not as easy as it seemed.  Sure, filming a crime scene merely requires being at there, but getting there before the police shut down the area is tough.  After several failed attempts he finally comes up with the type of footage that will actually get him paid.  But Louis knows he’ll need help to really succeed.  Enter Rick (Riz Ahmed), a young man desperate for cash.  He accepts the offered $30/day salary and becomes the navigator and assistant.

This starts working out very well, to the point that Louis begins selling footage regularly to Channel 6.  In doing so he develops a working relationship with Nina (Rene Russo), the woman in charge of deciding what is and isn’t news.  But that’s still not enough.  The rest of the film gets more and more seedy and creepy as Louis does literally (yes, I’m using it correctly here) anything he can to score better footage to make more money.

What makes Nightcrawler work is Jake Gyllenhaal.  He plays a creepy sociopath with no regards for other people and is frighteningly good at it.  He mentally abuses Rick, forces Nina to give in to his every demand, and does everything in his power to beat the competition.  On top of all that he’s not afraid to manipulate the footage to maximize his earnings.

While there are a lot of people ‘in’ the movie, it almost exclusively focuses on Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed.  I’ll give it to two out of the three, they’re complex, interesting characters.  It’s just that Jake Gyllenhall obliterates them and dominates nearly every single shot.  My hat goes off to him for giving one of the creepiest, most compelling performances I’ve seen in recent years.

Between the acting and a genuinely disturbing script, Nightcrawler is one of the best dramas I’ve seen in a long time and currently my favorite film of the year.

Top image © Open Road Films.