WRITTEN BY: Dan Gilroy
DIRECTED BY: Dan Gilroy
STARRING: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmend, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
RATING: 4 stars
If Nightcrawler proves to be even a little glimpse into the future of journalism, my heart will break. It is a dark thriller and at times almost a black comedy, with a creepy central character who seems to have no moral or legal grounding to stop him from invading people's lives to film the perfect footage. It is also a terrifying and sensational look at the competitive world of journalism and what constitutes news. While writer/director Dan Gilroy takes his time to slowly build the story, the final act will keep you on the edge of your seat and the climax is a shock.
Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a socially awkward but intelligent small-time criminal looking for night work in Los Angeles when he stumbles on a burning car on the side of a freeway where police are trying to free a trapped woman. He pulls over to watch and sees freelance cameramen, including Joe (Bill Paxton), filming the rescue. That is enough excitement to make Louis decide that he too wants to become a nightcrawler. Although he is eager and a fast learner, Louis does not have any understanding of journalism or the ethical and legal frameworks in which journalists work. So, he begins entering crime scenes and filming gory assaults and crashes to sell the graphic images to news director Nina (Rene Russo) who is so keen to improve ratings that she never really questions how Louis is getting the footage. He also hires a desperate homeless man (Riz Ahmend) to help build his empire.
Gyllenhaal is extraordinary as the super-skinny and mentally twisted main character. He has impressed audiences in the past with his serious and dark roles but this role pushes him even further. It is hard to believe Russo is 60 years old because she looks no more than 40. Her character is a strong woman who is manipulated and blackmailed by Louis but she remains defiant when confronted by police and colleagues. It is an interesting representation of a news director. Ahmend gives an understated performance and is one of the few sympathetic characters in the film. Paxton has only a small role, but he is as reliable as ever.
Gilroy's understanding of newsrooms is a little off because most of what Louis presents to Nina would never get a run, at least not on Australian news. However, this is a work of fiction, so the inaccuracies can be overlooked. Ultimately, aside from being an exciting thriller, the film has a deeper message less about modern journalism and more about the future of journalism, which is worth considering.