Nightcrawler (Open Road Films, R)

film nightcrawler_smThe character of Bloom (and the strong performance by Gyllenhaal) is memorable and odd as far as film characters go.




film nightcrawler

I’m expecting Nightcrawler, the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy and starring a gaunt, tendony Jake Gyllenhaal, to become something of a sleeper hit. It’s being positioned as akin to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, which isn’t too far off: Both films successfully co-opt a pseudo ’80s vibe and are unusually thoughtful actioners. There are echoes of season five of The Wire in here, too, but don’t get too excited; Nightcrawler isn’t nearly as good as either Drive or The Wire, but it is a solid, smart thriller, which is an increasingly rare thing.

Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, who is basically a creep. When we meet him, he’s stealing metal and selling it for scrap, but after a chance encounter he falls into the game of nightcrawling. This is something akin to ambulance chasing with a video camera in tow, with an eye to selling the footage to local news stations looking for blood and guts to help get viewers to tune in. As such, Nightcrawler has room for plenty of cultural commentary of which it largely does a good job, one of many reasons this film works.

Another is the character of Bloom (and the strong performance by Gyllenhaal), who is memorable and odd as far as film characters go. He has some pretty serious social problems, but he’s also smart and motivated enough to teach himself anything he needs to know (with the aid of the internet, of course), and to work hard at whatever he puts his mind to. Further, the notion of nightcrawling as a profession will likely be a new concept to most of this film’s audience, so there’s definitely a point of interest in learning about that trade, as well.

This is of the sort of film that I had some problems with but can’t openly discuss in a review such as this, lest I be giving too much away. My issues with the film aren’t too major, really—the fact that it isn’t reliant on plot twists to keep the viewer interested is a testament to the craft behind it. About the best I can say is that the screenplay, while strong, is a bit too tidy (it was written by Gilroy, who has scripted stuff like The Bourne Legacy and The Fall); as such, Nightcrawler is predictable not quite like how genre films are, but more in how those who have studied screenwriting can tend to tell where any given film is going to go. This feels like something inspired by Robert McKee’s tome Story: Something interesting happens in the first 10 pages, every major plot point is signposted along the way, and so on.

There’s no problem with this, and these are widely accepted rules in screenwriting because they work. In fact, this movie works well enough that even those who can predict where it’s going will probably forget to, because they’ll be too wrapped in the plot to think about it. | Pete Timmermann

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