Jake Gyllenhaal's name certainly belongs on that list with movies like Prisoners, Zodiac, Jarhead, End of Watch and Brokeback Mountain to his name. There's a new movie at the top of the list, 2014's Nightcrawler.
Living in Los Angeles in a small, sparsely furnished apartment with no job, a crappy car and no real prospects, Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is looking for a career. He just doesn't know what. One night as he's driving on the expressway, he drives past a flaming wreck as two police officers pull an unconscious woman from the car. Two cameramen rush past him to get footage of the incident, footage they intend to sell to local news stations. The better the footage? The better the money. With that, Louis sees a new possible career. Through some dubious means, he gets a used video camera and even hires an assistant -- an intern really -- to help him navigate Los Angeles in the dead of night in search of the best, the juiciest (read = bloodiest, most graphic, most grizzly), and most salacious footage. How far is Louis willing to go to create this new niche for himself? Is there even a limit?
Yikes. What a movie, a movie I didn't expect when I headed into it. The plot description mentioned a driven man in L.A. muscling into the world of crime journalism. That is an apt description, an accurate one but one that only gives a sense of what's coming. There's so much more happening here. Reading more into the film, I was a little worried when I saw Dan Gilroy had both written and directed 'Nightcrawler.' Not a hugely recognizable name but one who's worked pretty regularly in Hollywood. My problem was that he'd written Real Steel, Two for the Money and The Bourne Legacy, two films I really didn't like and one I was disappointed in. Making his directorial debut, Gilroy doesn't disappoint, shaking off those disappointments (for me at least, and THAT'S what matters) for an incredible movie to watch, both uncomfortable and entertaining.
There's no place to start here other than Gyllenhaal. When I say I didn't know what to expect of the movie heading into it, it's because of Gyllenhaal. This isn't a movie about L.A. crime journalism. This is a character study of a man in L.A. crime journalism. It isn't an action movie as some previews and trailers might have you think. This is Jake Gyllenhaal's movie, and my goodness, he delivers a captivating performance. You meet his Lou early on and think "Okay, nerdy, quirky dude with no real skillset who's still trying to make something of himself." Yeah, that's what you think. There's so, SO much more to this performance. There is little to nothing in the way of background about Lou got to this point, but as you see the movie develop, you just know that backstory is not a pleasant one. The details? They would be as uncomfortable -- if not more -- if we learned more about Lou.
So how do you describe this character? Hmm, well....Lou is insane. He's a lunatic. He's a sociopath, and Gyllenhaal brings him to life with each passing scene that gets more and more uncomfortable, unsettling and downright scary at times. You laugh at times because what he says is so profoundly wrong. Lou Bloom isn't well-educated or come from an upper class background. He learns. He teaches himself, and he plans. His life is cold, calculating and bottom line with everything. Can you help him? Yes? You're okay. Are you expendable? Watch out. Gyllenhaal commits to the part from his simple wardrobe to his slicked back hair, his lifeless eyes transitioning immediately to rage-filled eyes ready to explode. This is an incredible acting job. It's early for movie awards season, but Gyllenhaal definitely deserves Best Actor consideration.
Three other key parts dot the movie, starting with Rene Russo as Nina Romina, a news director at an L.A. news station looking for some ratings. She sees the talent in Lou but doesn't realize the depths he'll go to for a story or footage. Riz Ahmed is excellent as Rick, Lou's poorly paid intern who is desperate and needs work, dealing with all of Lou's drama and outbursts. Last but not least, look for Bill Paxton as Joe Loder, another nighttime crime journalist who butts heads with Lou and his general aggressiveness.
What Gilroy does so well is build up and create this world. The glimpses of daylight in a 117-minute movie are rare. This is a nighttime movie for the nigthcrawling world. This is a story on the streets of Los Angeles, the fluorescent and neon lights paving the way. It's a dark, grimy, gritty and incredibly violent world. The business is cutthroat if you want to make a name for yourself. You have to push the limits, and in Lou's case, slam through those limits and make up your own. The ending is about as close as you get to a more mainstream action movie, a chase through the open, empty streets of Los Angeles as Lou and Rick push those limits. It builds to an ending I found disappointing, but one that works as you think about the reality of the world we live in right now. Sadly enough, people are incredibly interested in the gory, graphic, bloody and horrifically violent. That's it. That's all.
Oh, and Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent. If you like that sort of thing.
Nightcrawler (2014): *** 1/2 /****