Film Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

Release Date: September 5th, 2014 (TIFF)
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Bold Films, Open Road Films, 117 Minutes

Review:

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.” – Lou Bloom

Nightcrawler was a film that the critics loved. It was on several top ten lists at the end of 2014 and it even won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. I went into it with a lot of enthusiasm because it was a modern noir-esque picture that had high praise and accolades and starred Jake Gyllwnhall, an actor, who when he is on his A-game, is one of the best working today.

Sadly, I was severely underwhelmed by the movie. It wasn’t due to bad performances, bad direction or lackluster cinematography; all that stuff was good. I just couldn’t connect with the film in the one aspect that was the most highly regarded: the story.

There is no one in Nightcrawler that I care about. Even the Riz Ahmed character sells his soul despite his moral compass and his reservations about his job and how truly evil his boss is. Rene Russo started out strong and was somewhat admirable but ultimately, she sells her soul too. Everyone sells there soul. And the puppet master pulling all the strings is Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.

The thing that makes the narrative hard to digest or connect with is that you just see Bloom on the surface. He’s a selfish, despicable, greedy madman that doesn’t care what horrible actions he has to take, as long as he is the best at what he does and he makes a lot of money. I can deal with a character like this but there needs to be some sort of context, something beneath what’s immediately apparent by his actions. He’s a reptilian human being and this film exists as a sort of satirical commentary on the media and nightcrawlers in general but it is missing a soul and some meaning.

Maybe this works for the Hollywood types living in L.A., as they witness these nightcrawler vultures taking over the streets at night, in an effort to be nightly news paparazzi, capturing violent crimes and carnage in an effort to generate ratings and revenue. To someone that doesn’t live in a big city, a little more narrative meat is needed. Maybe people in L.A. are just okay assuming that the people who do this job are blood thirsty jackals and that’s all the context they need for this story to work. Still, it’s rather one-dimensional.

To me, this is a film that fails to capture any sort of real emotional connection. Sure, you feel the tension in the heat of the moment when some big action sequence is going down or when you’re sitting in the bushes with Bloom, waiting for something bad to pop off. It’s just that everything between these moments doesn’t establish anything worthwhile.

Gyllenhaal played the part as best as he could but I feel like the script, despite winning the biggest of all film awards, wasn’t worthy of the performance. Gyllenhaal deserved more and he should have had the narrative to tell us more. He conveys what is on paper well but its like he doesn’t have all the material he needs to make the character truly live.

The film is still incredibly well acted, especially the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo, as well as Gyllenhaal and Ahmed. It also has some incredibly cinematography thanks to the eye and style of Robert Elswit, who also worked on There Will Be BloodMagnolia and dozens of other pictures.

I can’t completely trash the film due to its great technical execution and the talent of its cast. I just don’t feel like it is something I would ever want to watch again.

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