UK Release Date 31st October 2014
Director Dan Gilroy
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal
Runtime 117 Minutes
Certificate 15
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 13th November 2014

Do you remember Freejack? Not heard that one for a while have you. I think it probably only resonates with cinephiles who spent their formative years in their local flee pit watching whatever was on because that was the sort of town they lived in. And by that, I am of course referring to my good self. Anyway, Freejack starred Mick Jagger, Emilio Estevez, Rene Russo and national treasure Anthony Hopkins and involved some sort of future time travel shenanigans. I think. It wasn’t exactly a hit. Except with those of us who had literally no other choice that Friday. In which case it rocked. I haven’t had much cause to re-asses this movie and the more I think about it, the more it deserves its place in our Cult section. Mark, are you paying attention? The reason for this overly long ramble is that Freejack was the first screenplay of Dan Gilroy. Which of course leads us to….

Nightcrawler. Needless to say, we are on slightly more auspicious territory with this one, which Gilroy wrote for his directorial debut. And my word, what a debut it is. Though possibly more because of the script and Jake Gyllenhaal’s astonishing performance, than the directing. We pick up with low life Louis Bloom, driving a knackered Toyota around LA, making a very dishonest living stealing copper wire, manhole covers and the like and selling them to scrap dealers who detest him because he’s “a fucking thief”. When a pitch for a job with a scrap dealer falls flat, despite Bloom’s impressive parroting of management and self improvement speak, Bloom finds himself passing a car crash on the freeway on the way back to his rundown apartment.

Suddenly fascinated by the scene, Bloom pulls up and stops to admire the work of the police officers removing a woman from a flaming wreck. A news truck arrives and Bloom is hit by the realisation that there is money to be made filming such tragedies. All you need is a camera. Scruples are a strong hindrance to such a career and as luck would have it, good old Louis would appear to be a sociopath. Five stars for career matching then and off we go along with Louis on his odyssey to become a ‘respectable’ TV news cameraman.

Gyllenhaal has aways been an genuinely impressive screen presence and his choice of roles has is usually reliably risky (Prince of Persia aside) but his work here is absolutely a career best. His Louis is the most loathsome character I’ve seen committed to screen for quite some time and Gyllenhaal is utterly compelling. I found myself staring, almost unconsciously mimicking Bloom’s bug-eyed, emotionally bereft stare as I marvelled at the calm way he negotiates every situation. And I use the word negotiates in the literal meaning here. Everything is a negotiation for Bloom, from footage costs to relationships, he carefully and unemotionally weighs up every transaction and shifts himself into a position where he holds the most leverage. This is a man who considers it absolutely acceptable to move a dead body at the scene of a crash crash so that he can get a better angle, nothing is beyond consideration here. It’s a darkly wonderful sight to behold and one that will leave you reeling between uncomfortable laughs and squirming in your seat.

Gilroy’s LA has taken a huge amount from that of Michael Mann. Neon glistens and palm trees are framed against blue tinted sky as Bloom, soon dispensing with his Toyota for a bright red irony free Mustang, powers his way through the night with his assistant, chasing down the next disaster. Directed with economy, the tension simmers throughout nicely as Bloom’s attempts to ratchet up his asking price, and more importantly for him, his self value in the form of his burgeoning business. A car chase in the final reel is a great example of brilliantly pared down directing. Music is used sparingly and, Mann style flourishes aside, the entire movie is directed with wholly appropriate economy.

To go with this, Gilroy’s script is an absolute winner. Bloom’s constant default to management double-speak is both hilarious and distressing as he intensely reduces every incident to a morality free mental Powerpoint. The absolute conviction that Gyllenhaal imbues his creation with is frightening to behold. Thin of face with wide, blue staring eyes, the huge smile spread across his features is entirely unnerving, adding to the queasy laughs at Bloom’s overbearing confidence.

The remaining cast get slightly less of a look in, but both Riz Ahmed as Bloom’s green assistant Rick and Rene Russo as ageing TV news production director (and object of Bloom’s bizarrely communicated desires) Nina are great. Ahmed’s Rick, desperate for any kind of paying job, is probably the closest we get to any kind of audience sentiment in the movie, though it’s probably more because he is in a situation he has no control over rather than his moral objections to Bloom’s work methods. Only near the end with things spiralling out of his (though noticeably not Bloom’s) control, does he crack and question his boss. Russo is on great form as the TV boss, past her best years and stuck on the graveyard shift of the lowest rated station in LA, desperate to cling to arguably her last chance of career advancement. Caught in Bloom’s laser stare, she squirms to extract herself but never quite enough to elicit our sympathies. Any actual relationship between Nina and Bloom is never really resolved, we are left to fill in the blanks at what may have occurred off screen.

Partly a satire on people’s insatiable desire for (at times literal) car crash news, Nightcrawler is far more interesting as a character study of a truly horrible individual. A grinning sociopath without any of the style or finesse that we’re used to, Gyllenhaal’s Bloom manages to be both dull as hell and mind twistingly horrific. At turns laugh out loud funny and grimly horrific, Gilroy’s debut is a superb achievement and one that is going to take some following up for the fledgling director. Dark, tense and as amoral as its central character, this isn’t a movie that wraps anything up neatly for you. If you’re looking for a movie with a solid moral tale, you’re in the wrong place here. At one point after missing a plane crash due to bad navigation, Bloom stares into a cheap bathroom mirror before screaming and smashing it off the wall. Nightcrawler will make you feel like that mirror.

Check out the trailer here.

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