Saturday, November 1, 2014


NIGHTCRAWLER: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, directed by Dan Gilroy (117 min.)

Jake Gyllenhaal's performance in Nightcrawler is so hypnotizing, so oddly brilliant, so completely unforgettable, that everything else gets absorbed into his mesmerizing vortex. What an odd and unforgettable movie, something utterly unique but with all the right echoes of past characters and images in legendary films. It is one of the very best films of the year, and Gyllenhaal - who has been building to something like this - has reached a new summit in his career.

Lou Bloom is one of those loners we all know from the movies, less of a loner and more alone. Lou lives in a tiny apartment, drives a tiny car, and lives an inconsequential life as a bargain-basement thief. He will steal and sell things like copper wire and manhole covers to make a living wage. But something is not right with Lou and this is evident from the get go. He speaks robotically, as if everything he says was written as stereo instructions, or if everything he has ever learned he learned from sterile website copy. Lou has no friends, no family, and no ability to interact with anyone on a social level. Needless to say, Lou Bloom is a fascinating film character.  If you squint, you can see Travis Bickle with an internet connection.

One night, Lou stops at a freeway accident where a woman is being rescued from a burning car. A camera crew arrives on the scene and films the accident. The cameraman, Joe (Bill Paxton), is a freelancer who sells his footage to the news channel with the deepest pockets. This sparks an idea in Lou, and he uses his stolen-goods savings to buy a cheap camera, a police scanner, and he hits the streets waiting to catch that right crime at the right time.

It isn't long before Lou captures the right footage a little better than the next freelancer - mostly because Lou has seemingly no understanding of social boundaries or morals - and sells the footage to Nina (Rene Russo), a news producer for a local LA station who wants ratings more than morals. Lou and Nina develop a curious relationship as Lou continues to succeed in getting the exclusive footage of murders, accidents, fires, shootings and stabbings. As great as Gyllenhaal is here, it mustn't be overlooked that Rene Russo, as a former news anchor fighting her age with eyeshadow and heavy blush, delivers one of the best performances in her career. Nina has been around the block and she thinks she knows how to handle someone like Lou.  But, the thing is, she has never seen anyone like Lou. None of us have for that matter.

Pay attention to the rhythm of the scene between Lou and Nina, where Nina begrudgingly accepts an invitation to dinner. Pay attention to the way tones shift but Lou remains flat and direct. It is a stroke of brilliance in screenwriting and execution by two actors hitting all their notes.

Lou's business takes off and he brings on a homeless kid named Nick (Riz Ahmed) as his assistant, who seems just as happy to have a friend as he is to get 30 bucks a night. Lou gets a better camera, a rather auspicious cherry red Dodge Charger, and all manner of technical devices that make the inside of his new ride look like a police car itself. As Lou and Nick prowl the night streets of LA, events unfold and the picture builds and builds to a stunning conclusion. First time director Dan Gilroy, who also wrote Nightcrawler, has a firm grasp on what a powerful character the Los Angeles night can be, teaming with cinematographer Robert Elswit to capitalize on the iridescence of the flickering LA skyline, generating a visual buzz.

As I said, Gyllenhaal has been building to a performance like this in his career. His introverted, compelling turn in last year's phenomenal Prisoners seems to live on the opposite pole of his acting talents. As Lou, Gyllenhaal captivates, he pulls everything into his orbit. The way he explains everything so robotically, with an oblivious and gleeful social ineptitude, is nothing short of incredible. Lou's obsession with the scoop leads him into precarious situations where someone with even an ounce of social awareness would be frightened, yet he remains calm and focused on the task. He will stop at nothing to succeed, even if that means cutting moral corners to eliminate any competition or interference, no matter where said interference may come from.

Nightcrawler is completely engaging, a slow-burning picture with great payoff and sharp wit and satire regarding media immorality. It may very well be a masterpiece. And everything starts and stops with Gyllenhaal's performance, which will forever exist somewhere near the top of his career highlights.