Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sociopathic cameraman in Nightcrawler.
Jake Gyllenhaal gets the role of a lifetime in Nightcrawler, a film that is part intense character study and part searing indictment of the modern news media.It's also something of a family affair with writer/director Dan Gilroy bringing in his twin brother John Gilroy as editor, elder brother Tony Gilroy (the Bourne movies) as producer and wife Rene Russo as co-star. However it's Jake Gyllenhaal who carries the film and, in the process, gives what is easily the best performance of his career. In the film he plays Louis Bloom, a wired, intense and utterly amoral sociopath and Gyllenhaal is completely believable in the role. His weight loss, gaunt appearance and intense stare make for a totally unnerving presence; and yet it's refreshing to watch a film with such a loathsome yet fascinating central character.Gilroy isn't just content with fashioning a detailed character study however; he also has much to say about the current state of news media. As local news channels compete with 24-hour news networks and the internet for a viewing audience with an ever-decreasing attention span, so they chase increasingly graphic footage to frighten, shock and titillate. Gilroy clearly shows you how modern news channels operate but he also isn't afraid to put a spotlight on what we all realise - the inherent racism of their coverage. The murder of a poor black youth gets buried but a home invasion in a white, affluent area is the lead story.
The morally-bankrupt world of television news is the perfect arena for a character like Bloom, who is clearly unhinged from the first moment we meet him. His innate intelligence and single-minded determination would almost make him admirable where it not for his total lack of any conscience or empathy. He is the dark reality of the American dream; a self-educated individual who will do anything to get ahead. However despite this, such is the skill of the filmmakers that you almost pity him.
Bloom spends all day on his computer researching on the internet and all night out on the streets trying to capture footage he can sell to the news networks. He's a quick learner and uses the kind of homogenous business-speak that will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked in a large corporation. However you underestimate him at your peril and it's in his quiet moments of brutal clarity that he's at his most terrifying. Gyllenhaal captures this tightly wound intensity perfectly and his performance is so convincing that he must be a front-runner when the awards season comes around.
As dominant as Gyllenhaal's performance is, he is ably supported by an impressive cast that includes Rene Russo as the head of the news station to whom he sells his footage. It's great to see Russo back on our screens as something other than Thor's mum and she's perfect as a journalist who has long since lost her integrity in a desperate battle to win ratings. Her relationship with Bloom is almost Faustian, with the realisation she's effectively in a pact with the devil and he's come around to collect what's left of her soul.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives a remarkable performance and is deeply unnerving as the amoral Louis Bloom.
Bill Paxton also makes a welcome return to the big screen after his own stint in the Marvel universe playing a recurring character in Agents of SHIELD. Here he portrays an ageing 'nightcrawler' who initially tries to give Bloom some advice and help before realising just who he is dealing with and the lengths to which he'll go to succeed. British actor Riz Ahmed, who was previously the lead in Four Lions, plays Bloom's assistant Rick. This is Ahmed's first big Hollywood movie and he delivers a sympathetic and affecting performance, not to mention a perfect American accent.
The other major character in the film is Los Angeles itself, which Gilroy and his team capture in all its seedy glory. Almost the entire film takes place at night and the highly effective photography bathes the action in a sickening sodium light glow that perfectly draws you into Bloom's world. However despite its gory subject matter, Nightcrawler is also rich in pitch black comedy and some surprisingly exciting action set pieces that mark Dan Gilroy out as a director to watch.
Nightcrawler ranks as one of the most interesting films released this year; it features a superb central performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and insightful writing and direction from Dan Gilroy. As a character study it is both fascinating and repellent in equal measure and the film holds up a mirror to the uncomfortable nature of modern news media. A strong supporting cast and a talented team behind the camera also help deliver a darkly funny and, at times, exciting story. Ultimately though it's Gyllenhaal's film and his intense stare will stay with you long after leaving the cinema.
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