Review: Nightcrawler

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Nightcrawler

Over the last several years Dan Gilroy has made a name for himself in Hollywood as a screenwriter. After a few misses, he struck gold with The Bourne Legacy, a script that really put him on the map and ended up giving him the power to jump behind the camera. His directorial debut, Nightcrawler, is a slick thriller, even though it plays out like a gritty b-movie. Robert Elswit, Paul Thomas Anderson's frequent cinematographer, captures the streets and vistas of Los Angeles in an alluringly dangerous way instantly during the opening credits.

We're seduced by the city and then introduced to Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a man who seems to have at least some level of Asperger's syndrome (or, at bare minimum, is not good at communicating with other people). We cannot really discern much about his life initially. Living in a small apartment and seemingly without a job, he drives around the city late at night looking for things he can steal and sell for scrap money. On the expressway, he comes across an accident site right as the police are beginning to assist. He gets out of his car and is transfixed by the scene, even more so when a fast moving van pulls up alongside him and runs toward the cops with video cameras in their hands, capturing the accident which has now turned into a dramatic police rescue before the car engulfs in flames. 

Lou follows the lead cameraman (Bill Paxton) back towards his van, asking him multiple questions and hanging on every word of his answers. He absorbs the information knowing that the local news stations will pay him to have exclusive footage on the air and it appears as though he's instantly decided what his next step is. He goes and picks up a small consumer video camera and a police scanner, without really knowing anything about proper protocol. He has made up his mind to scan the streets, but he has to learn what is worth capturing and what is a waste of time. 

He wastes no time in hiring his first employee, Rick (Riz Ahmed) to join him on his pursuit of becoming the first person on site of these accidents. His initial methods aren't super successful, but once Lou begins to understand the news motto of "if it bleeds, it leads," he starts to find out that he can be very successful in this world, feeding off other people's misfortune. It's to the credit of Gyllenhaal that the character works at all. His success here comes mostly in riding that fine line between sane and insane and I'll admit that I'm not fully sure which side I'd come down on. 

The most surprising performance in the film comes from Rene Russo as Nina, a down-on-her-luck news producer at the lowest rated station in town who needs Lou's increasingly graphic footage to ensure that she keeps her job. Aside from brief roles in the Thor films, Russo has not been active much over the last decade on screen and I was pleasantly surprised to see her with such a meaty part here. While Gilroy is her real-life husband and that probably encouraged her to take the part, I can't imagine anybody else doing it as well as she does. She also has a great chemistry with Gyllenhaal and their characters feed off of each other in a magnificently unhealthy way. 

The world of Nightcrawler is not exactly firmly grounded in reality, but it takes a slightly elevated, pitch black look at a world where having questionable morality is celebrated as long as it increases the bottom line.