September 7, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto 2014 Review: “Nightcrawler”


NIGHTCRAWLER (Open Road) – Opens October 31 – Worth A Ticket

Over the past few years, Jake Gyllenhaal has seemed determined to scrub the wholesomeness out of his screen image, in movies like Zodiac, Brothers, End of Watch and Prisoners.  He achieves true creep-ness in NIGHTCRAWLER, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival before opening theatrically next month, and that appears to have been his goal.

Sallow and with avid eyes that stop just short of popping out of his skull, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom (his first name is probably supposed to put the word “low” in mind), a singlemindedly ruthless striver who determines, early in Nightcrawler, that his true vocation is working as a nighttime video stringer, a mercenary who cruises the streets of Los Angeles after dark listening to a police scanner, his goal to be the first one at a crime or accident scene with his camera out, able to capture the raw, violent footage of what’s happening and then sell it to a local TV station.  Before long, he’s figured out that the best way to get exclusive footage is to manipulate it–and worse.  Lou is a more dangerous Rupert Pupkin (and the night-world milieu, of course, recalls Pupkin’s cousin Travis Bickle), but writer/director Dan Gilroy (a longtime screenwriter making his directing debut) has conceived him as deliberately one-dimensional, so no matter how chilling and focused Gyllenhaal’s work is, there comes a point in Nightcrawler where it’s all too easy to figure out what Lou will do next, even when the revelation is meant to be shocking.

Gilroy means Lou to be the personification of our tabloid-obsessed, success-hungry culture (Lou parrots the aspirational corporate-speak of the books that dot the NY Times nonfiction best seller list), but Gilroy, unlike Scorsese, doesn’t identify with his awful creation, or view him with much compassion or even humor.  Lou is a monster surrounded by patsies, including local news director Nina (Rene Russo), competitor Chris (Bill Paxton), and most especially Rick (Riz Ahmed), the nice kid who agrees to work as Lou’s barely-paid “intern,” and who Lou treats as his slave.  Gilroy’s vision is unrelievedly bleak, and it limits Nightcrawler, which observes Lou like an insect under its cool microscope.

Within Gilroy’s constricted scheme, Nightcrawler is beautifully engineered, especially as the work of a first-time director.  Gilroy has enlisted Robert Elswit, the man behind the camera on most of Paul Thomas Anderson’s films, as his cinematographer, and Elswit achieves an often handheld aesthetic of immediacy with an elegance not often associated with that look.  Editor John Gilroy (the director’s brother) and assorted stunt personnel put together a bang-up, very realistically scaled car chase late in the story (among Dan Gilroy’s credits as a screenwriter was the last Bourne movie).  Only James Newton Howard’s score feels somewhat conventional.

Nightcrawler doesn’t go as deep as it might have, but it, and especially Gyllenhaal’s hellish performance, stay with you.  The local news will never look quite so shiny again.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."