by Anthony Zangrillo
Jake Gyllenhaal has been on somewhat of a streak, his last films from Source Code, End of Watch, Prisoners, and Enemy has all ranged from great to utterly fantastic. Walking into his latest Nightcrawler I was expecting it to fail just because very few actors can get on such a lasting streak, the chances that he could land another great film was low in my eyes. Fortunately I was completely wrong, because not only is Nightcrawler great, it’s the best role of Gyllenhaal’s career.
The film follows Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, a man who decides to join the world of underground L.A. crime journalism. As he invests in camera and police radio scanner, he soon adapts to his job as a Nightcrawler, one who films the crimes that occurred at night for the news stations. As he works with the woman in charge of the local L.A. news station, Nina, played wonderfully by Rene Russo, and his own employee Rick, played by the amazing newcomer Riz Ahmed, Lou is slowly transformed by his job, blurring the line of morality as the film progresses. The less you know about this film, the better.
Though the film starts off slow when it begins to pick up the pace, it really gets going. There is a long scene towards the end involving a restaurant and criminals that is by far the most intense scene of the year. It is a scene the film takes so much time to build up to properly and is so wonderfully filmed that at the end of the scene the entire theater burst into applause. Plus, it features one of the best car chases of the year. The script truly takes its time and by the end you appreciate the slow beginning, because the payoff is so wonderful. At the Q&A after the film, writer/director Dan Gilroy stated that he spent years on the script and it honestly shows, the script is incredibly tight, constantly developing Lou into a monster or revealing how horrible he really is. That’s another wonderful thing about this film, it doesn’t tell you much directly; it leaves just the right amount for interpretation, making the film feel both exciting and smart. The silent scenes in the beginning are something you long for towards the end, especially when things become so nerve-wracking you’re begging for the film to let go and give you a breath of air.
Not only is Dan Gilroy’s script fantastic, but he knocks the directing effort out of the park, I couldn’t believe that it was his first time directing, because he really came off as a pro in this film. The way he constructs every scene is nothing short of fantastic. The film also has the brilliant man that is Robert Elswit in charge of cinematography. Elswit really captures the atmosphere the film needs and from what I hear he’s done the best job at accurately capturing L.A. at night. If you are familiar with his work with Paul Thomas Anderson, such as ‘There Will Be Blood’ and ‘Boogie Nights’, you know this man is top notch, who settles for nothing but the best shot. He does not disappoint in this film — every shot is beautiful and atmospheric in their own right.
Though the film is amazing, it wouldn’t nearly have been as good without it’s actors, especially Jake Gyllenhaal. Having lost almost 20 pounds for this role, Gyllenhaal is barely recognizable. He completely adapts into his character, at some points it was easy to forget that Lou Bloom was a fictional character played by an actor. The way Jake looks, the way he bugs out his eyes like some parasite examining everything, looking for the next way he can gain. It helps that he is given consistently amazing monologues that he clearly loved because he just kills every single one. Every monologue just impressed me more and more. He said so himself after the film, that after every monologue he became depressed for he knew it was some of the best lines he will ever speak in front of a camera and his passion for that really shows in the film. He knows it’s the best, so he gives it his best. At the very end he said his main inspiration for the film came from his observations of coyotes and it really does show, it is both an accurate description of the way the character not only acts but also even looks. Gyllenhaal really does often have a coyote-like look and physicality to him, always looking and searching for his next prey. Though not to give all the credit to Jake, since all the actors were magnificent, especially Riz Ahmed who received a very long applause when he came out, since no one expected a no name actor to give such a great performance. Even Rene Russo at the age of 60 shows that she still has a lot to show, because she manages to stay on par with Jake in every scene they are together. The reason they don’t live up to Jake is merely due to not having such a rich character. Jake Gyllenhaal has shown passion for this film, both at the multiple Q&As at the festival and in previous interviews where he stated it was his passionate project. Both him and Gilroy discussed how difficult it was to make this film and I can see why: it is a dark and uncompromising film. There is no happy ending here and it doesn’t show the mass media as a very positive influence in our lives. Nightcrawler tackles a worthwhile issue, while at the same time being a gripping character-based thriller that is definitely one of the best upcoming films gracing the theater this year.