NIGHTCRAWLER ****1/2 (out of five)
Originality. It would seem to be a basic tenant of great story-telling, but often it takes something really original to shine a light on how much recycled dross gets made. Dan Gilroy’s feature directing debut Nightcrawler is a true original, and a totally awesome entertainment, all the more so if you like your satire as bitter and black as a Turkish espresso.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a sociopath, a socially retarded loner who is desperate to make his way in the world. Trouble is, no-one in their right mind would hire this creep. He studies business strategies and ideologies all day on the internet, and when he speaks, it spews from his mouth like so much new age bullcrap. Hearing him pitch himself to a prospective employer makes you want to punch him. He is a deeply unlikeable protagonist, but in Gyllenhaal’s hands he is riveting, one of the most intriguing movie characters of the year. Many are comparing this film to Taxi Driver, but for me Lou is closest in spirit to another Scorsese / De Niro collaboration: Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy. Like Pupkin, Lou has no clue, but is massively deluded and believes he’s got all the clues – that he’s the smart one and everyone else is the idiot.
Lou stumbles into “nightcrawling” – listening to a police scanner, identifying accident and crime scenes, rushing to them, filming them and then trying to sell the footage to local news programs for breaking news and early morning bulletins. Whether this goes on in the real world or not, it’s a brilliant hook for a film. Everyone in the game is on the far edges of any sort of ethics, but Lou, not caring about anyone or anything other than himself, has the moral decrepitude to trump them all.
Rene Russo (Gilroy’s wife) gives spectacular support as the local news director who starts buying Lou’s footage. It’s not a flashy role but she nails every moment, and I would love to see her nominated for Best Supporting Actress come Awards Season (which has, actually, kicked off). Gyllenhaal is likely to be nominated for Lead Actor in the more edgy competitions, but I can’t imagine the Oscars giving him a statue for this character. He’s just too despicable.
One of the best films of the year, easily.