Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: Jake Gyllenhall is a brilliantly slimy Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler, written and directed by Dan (brother of Tony) Gilroy, is a dark, moody film that tries to make you feel as uncomfortable as possible, trying to emulate American Psycho and David Cronenberg's masterpiece Crash. Jake Gyllenhaal continues his run of strong performances with this excellent turn as the sociopath Louis Bloom, easily one of the year's most despicable protagonists. He starts off as a small-time criminal, but quickly discovers his talent for nighttime "journalism." This business entails driving through the neon-lit suburbs of L.A. on the lookout for accidents, fire, break-ins and, most lucratively, murder. This borderline legal world functions, as Rene Russo's TV-news producer explains, according to two principles: 1. The wealthier the victim, the better. 2. Blood sells.

On one level, the film works as a bleak satire of the immoral, inherently capitalist sensationalism that is increasingly taking over television (actually it's about ethics in games journalism); the irony being that we "enjoy" the film's own somewhat sensationalist, but fictional, depiction of violence. The meat of the film is however a character study of this deranged man. He is the (extreme) embodiment of the internet generation: he spends most of his time alone on his computer, losing any social skills, compassion or sense of reality in the process. When talking about business, journalism or relationships, his words sound like quotes from a textbook or an online tutorial (which they probably are).

Liking this character is obviously impossible, so Gyllenhaal makes us love to hate him instead. His lean physicality (he lost 20 pounds for the role), his slick hair and his creepy, weirdly punchable grin give him an eerie aura of menace and send shivers down your spine. His performance is by some distance the film's greatest strength and he manages to turn Louis Bloom into a truly memorable, unique antihero.

That said, Nightcrawler doesn't quite reach the heights of its role models. The satire is at times too simplistic, while it feels too exaggerated to work as a human drama. I wasn't as shocked by the foulness of L.A. after sunset as the film wanted me to be either. Perhaps the fact that the copious blood on the streets left me slightly nonplussed, is actually the shocking thing about Nightcrawler. 

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