A reworking of Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote, “if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you” but I found ‘void’ to be more apt for when describing Nightcrawler, this seminal crime thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal, who’s cold and warped performance inspired the ‘stare’ of the quote.
Set predominantly in the L.A. nightscape; Nightcrawler follows Louis Bloom, played by Gyllenhaal, an enthusiastic and creepy young person, who just wants to find a job he can be proud off, and he will do anything to achieve his goals. So when he stumbles upon the underground world of freelance crime journalism, he thinks he’s found his calling. And then comes, a dark, twisted, funny, and warped thrill ride into the life of a deeply strange man, as he strives to be the best him he can be.
This film is commonly referred to as “the modern Taxi Driver” and whether it measures up to that or not, is not the purpose of this post, but I see what they mean. Not that it shares a huge amount with the Scorsese classic, in terms of story, setting, or style; but both depict the life of disturbed people, with timely issues, and something to prove. Taxi Driver dealing with problems of a post-Vietnam America, with themes of loss purpose, and dislocation; while Nightcrawler similarly deals with a post-recession and jobless America. Louis’s obsession with finding a job that satisfies you, and an endless rotary of self-help empowerment mantras, combined with his veneer of a can-do attitude, echoes many promises the recession generation were educated on, but didn’t have delivered. Showing how ruthless someone really has to be to achieve the ever elusive American dream.
And it’s here the film has its first lair of satire; ingeniously parodying a classic rag to riches story, swelling inspirational music and all, but with a detestable character doing inhuman, evil things, to get his riches. And I won’t ruin what happens, but it does have a happy ending.
It also dives head first and balls deep into satirizing the News, as blood thirsty, manipulative, and downright evil at times. “If it bleeds, it leads” as is repeated multiple times in the film, with Rene Russo giving a chemical turn as the News show runner, clearly taking inspiration from 1996’s Network, with the satirisation of the ultra-violet media being the focus of that film, but as I haven’t seen it, can’t comment further.
Though it’s a stretch to call anyone here a ‘hero’; the heroes of this film are Jake Gyllenhaal, giving still a career best performance in an already well versed one, dropping 20 pounds and digging deep to portray a mere reflection of a real man. The other being Dan Gilroy’s dark, clever and witty script; both married perfectly to fully realize and bring this character and story to life, and give us a sociopath for the digital age. (Move over Sherlock)
Behind the camera Dan Gilroy does a clean job of making the L.A. nightscape a very cold and isolating place, reflecting its lead character, and sharing many shades with Michael Mann’s Collateral, which was clearly an influence. It’s a high-class and pristine looking film, especially for a directorial debut, having a gorgeous neo-noir style; and his motifs of focusing on camera screens to establish how the camera sees things – instead of exactly how they actually are – works as a great and sometimes surreal effect.
But at the same time its probably one of the films weaker aspects, not that there is anything wrong with the direction, just compared to its other elements. It doesn’t seem like it pushes the envelope as much, and has left me wondering how the film would have turned out in the hands of a David Fincher or a Nicolas Winding Refn who could really elevate the material visually- especially for the coherent, if a bit safe, action scenes.
But those little nit-picks aside, we love Nightcrawler because it showed there was still room in Hollywood for new and shocking things, which can be highly original and artistic, while still being major box office hits.
And good god Jake Gyllenhaal is fucking amaze balls.
If you enjoy Nightcrawler, I also recommend American Psycho and Collateral, two other stylish and darkly funny thrillers, that featuring characters with warped views on life.