A Trip To The Movies – Review: “Nightcrawler” 12.7.14

This was the second to last of my crop of movies to see to wrap up the end of 2014. The other being Bennett Miller’s “Foxcatcher” which is scheduled to be released here in Portland later this month. Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” doesn’t open here until January, so unfortunately it’s just going to miss the cut and therefore won’t be considered as a 2014 release even though it’s already opened in NY and L.A. I had heard a lot of buzz surrounding this one, and like I do with pretty much every movie I know I’m going to see these days, especially those in the theater, I shut myself off from talking to anyone who’s seen it, didn’t watch any trailers, nor did I read any reviews. As I’ve found this new approach walking into a movie with a total clean slate has made my moviegoing experiences a lot more exciting since I implemented it at the start of the year. To be truthfully honest I saw this film merely because of genre and the few blurbs I had stumbled upon unintentionally about it. But even more importantly because it was a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Who since 2009’s “Prince of Persia” seems to be doing everything right in terms of picking projects that he seems to find interesting, seemingly without a care in the world for what’s going to draw the people to the box office or what’s going to earn him the most money. In fact, I am so impressed by Gyllenhaal’s career trajectory since then that he has slowly inched his way into my top 5 favorite actors currently working in the film business today. He has put out one string of good films after another over the past few years. Which started in 2011 with Duncan Jones’ (“Moon”) brainy Sci Fi trip “Source Code”, then David Ayer’s (“Fury”) 2012 “End of Watch”, and the back-to-back films he’s done with French director Denis Villenueve in last year’s “Prisoners” and this year’s “Enemy”. The latter two performances which I considered to be right up there with Gyllenhaal’s best, if merely from an acting stand point. Sure he’s done some other great films like Richard Kelly’s cult hit “Donnie Darko” (2001) and David Fincher’s “Zodiac” (2007). Those are certainly great films in their own respect. However up until this point in his career never has he been so consistently good. I personally thought he was nabbed of a Best Actor nomination last year for “Prisoners”. As I truly thought it was one of his strongest, most compelling performances to date. Then after having seen “Enemy” earlier this year and loving both the film and his performance as much as I did, I vowed to myself that I would pretty much see anything that he’s attached to from this point forward in his career. Then came the second Gyllenhaal film this year, “Nightcrawler”, a film that once again looked like it had the potential to be yet another great film from an actor who over the last few years has proven that you really can’t go wrong with seeing whatever this undeniably gifted young actor does next. It is because of my strong affinity for Gyllenhaal as an actor that I decided to catch this one while it was still playing in theaters, as I heard a very strong response to both the film itself and his performance.

We are first introduced to Gyllenhaal’s character, Lou, a man living in L.A. who is desperate for a job and is willing to take just about anything he can get. He seems to have zero qualifications or any kind of prior job experience but proclaims that he’s a “hard worker” to the employers he tries to persuade to give him a job, any job, at the start of the film. He seems to have no family, girlfriend, kids, or anything that would link him to the rest of the world. Except for the fact that he’s smart, persistent, and has a considerable amount of drive and ambition. One night he stumbles upon an accident and has a sort of epiphany as he sees the race of the reporters desperate to cover whatever story happens to be the biggest one of the night. Gyllenhaal’s Lou then decides that this is his calling and what he wants to do with his life. So he grabs a cheap camera and police scanner and begins to crack the codes of police dispatchers calls in hopes that he will be the first one in line to capture footage of whatever break out news story happens to be going on any given night. It is here that he meets his adversary in the form of Bill Paxton, a fellow freelance reporter who is the man who seems to have broken down this method of beating the cops to the scene of the crime or accident, all in hopes of capturing whatever footage he can get so that he can be the first to sell it to whichever news station will pay him the most for it. On one unsuspecting evening he documents a grisly scene of a murder, and gets his first taste of the potential of his newfound endeavor through a local news station whose director, played by Rene Russo, gives him his first paycheck and the promise of much more money to come if he sticks with it. Lou then begins to slowly fine tune his craft with the addition of a new camera, fire-red mustang, and an intern whom he hires on to help him become faster and more proficient in his almost addictive-like quest to get to the scene of the crime first, and over time he succeeds at doing so. And is in turn employed full-time by Rene Russo’s news station to bring them a story, night after night, which in turn increases his drive and ambition to be the absolute best freelance reporter in all of L.A. Then one night, he stumbles upon a scene of extreme violence and its aftermath, a pivotal scene that goes on to drive the rest of the film and the events that unfold after it.

This was a spectacular film that exceeded my moderate to high expectations. Throughout it made me think of Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” (2011) which I found myself drawing a lot of comparisons to and who ironically enough I came to find after was produced by the same team as it. Mainly because I felt like part of the beauty of it lay in its subtext. Some people will view the film, much like “Drive”, as a straight ahead action-thriller. Which is fine and all. But underneath it all in its subtext I thought it was trying to say something much deeper than what appeared to be at its surface. Oddly enough I looked at it as something similar to that of “Scarface”. About having the drive and ambition in the pursuit of the American dream and wanting to be at the very top by whatever means necessary. Every decision Gyllenahaal’s character does seems to be driven by Capitalist thought. He becomes so incredibly obsessed with the prospect of delivering the next best news story that he’ll do just about whatever it takes even at the expense of those of others around him. Gyllenhaal once again amazes with his spellbinding performance in which he totally immerses himself into his character and puts on one hell of a show. His sunken face (apparently he lost a considerable amount of weight for this film) and beady eyes that look like they’re going to pop out of his head make him look like some kind of insect and acts as one of the many ways of reading into the film’s title. But besides the transformative piece he also really brings a certain depth and range to his character that border lines on someone with a serious mental illness who falls so deep into his craft that he begins to flirt with insanity. A character that brings to mind the late great Robin Williams in 2002’s “One Hour Photo” or better yet even, Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle in Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece – “Taxi Driver” (1976). He delivers thoughts, ruminations, and words at a mile a minute and comes across as a likely candidate for someone with Autism or Asburger’s Syndrome. It’s a piece of method acting that truly shows his incredible range as an actor. The story itself is utterly and completely captivating from start to finish and has a great sense of pacing. As while on his quest to capture the best news stories the film becomes highly riveting, tense, and psychological. Not to mention that it seems incredibly dark for a studio film (much like “Prisoners” was). His physical and internal transformation is simply an awe to watch. As he starts off as a nobody and brings himself on some sort of self-fulfilling prophecy to uncover the truth, he becomes almost blinded by the world around him and loses his sense of self and identity, turning into some kind of monster. The supporting turns by both Bill Paxton and Rene Russo were also perfectly cast, and help anchor Gyllenhaal’s astonishing performance. This is a film that worked for me on a lot of levels, but mostly in the “can’t look away” turn by Gyllenhaal, that should garner him at least a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor, if not an Academy Award nomination. Like “Enemy”, this is the second Jake Gyllenhaal film to totally blow me away this year, and is also his second film to likely wind up making my top 10 best films of 2014. This film both shook and rattled me and had me thinking long after the credits rolled. Which in the humble opinion of this writer, only the best ones seem to do.

[that sweet spot between a B+ and A-]

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5 thoughts on “A Trip To The Movies – Review: “Nightcrawler” 12.7.14

  1. I liked Nightcrawler only slightly better than Cold in July; definitely outside of my top 10 on the year.. 83/B-. Gyllenhaal was good, very creepy. Could see why peeps consider it a snub he wasn’t nom’d for an Oscar

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  2. A few more thoughts on Nightcrawler to elaborate on the 83 for a grade.. I think going into it, it was positioned to me as a “thriller” & while I found it to be a very well-acted “character study”, I kind of felt like we learned everything about Gyllenhaal’s character you’re going to know in about the first 15 or 20 minutes of the movie. No real surprises.
    I wish they had chosen a different actress to play Rene Russo’s part too; I felt this same way about movies like The Thomas Crown Affair & Tin Cup where Russo’s supposed to have this sexy, somewhat unattainable thing going on.. but in my opinion, there are far sexier & better actresses in her age bracket that could play each 1 of those roles.
    1 part that was a little weak in my opinion was the transition after the Mexican restaurant scene. Lou is making it clear to Nina that he wants a little more than a professional relationship if he’s going to continue to exclusively give her his videos & really presses the envelope of the conversation by going on a good rant reminding Nina that she needs him just as much as he wants her, her station lacking in ratings & all. While that conversation was unsettling/intense, did they have sex after that or not? I guess it’s implied that they did with the symbolic sprinklers going off & the inflatable air dancer thingy. But I felt like it was a missed opportunity to show maybe a glimpse into a disturbing sex scene that would really illustrate just how intense Gyllenhaal is & how desperate Russo was.
    Overall.. 83/B-

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    1. What a crazy coincidence that you should just watch this movie as I literally just saw it again for the second time today (well, yesterday) in the theater with a buddy of mine (the first time I saw it solo). And I had my review of it pulled up on my tablet so we could bounce thoughts off of one another after over a couple of pints at the local pub and check out your grade and reasons for giving it the grade you did (nice follow up with your ellaboration by the way).

      To respond to your first comment at least to me, the sort of “mis-marketing piece” was one of the better parts about it. I think it was totally intended to be a character study. Much like that of Robert Deniro’s as Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver”. Also, in our current climate of film where almost every movie gives away what it’s going to be about in its trailer (one of the many reasons why I try and avoid trailers alltogether) this came as a bit of a treat and reminded me of “Drive” where the woman sued the film because she went into it “expecting” it to be a “Fast and the Furious” type film, or even better, Soderbergh’s “Contagion” where he even admitted in an interview that he tried to “trick” the audience in the film’s marketing campaign into thinking it was something it was not. He said he wanted people to think it was going to be some viral outbreak thriller when in fact he set out to make a horror film. So to me that element of surprise in not knowing exactly what to expect from this picture was part of its beauty.

      I’m also going to have to disagree with you about the casting of Rene Russo. I thought she fit the role perfectly here and as I mentioned in the review, anchored Gyllenhaal’s performance quite well. Both my friend and I agreed she was smartly cast as an older woman (I think she’s 60) that still exudes this sense of both sexy and sultryness that made sense in terms of the context of the film and his “obsessive” pursuits in this case an older woman. Maybe in the other 2 films you named that might have been the case (but those were both 15+ years ago) so while maybe she played a similar character in terms of her allure and unattainability I thought here the choice of casting her really worked.

      Lastly, and I didn’t catch this the first time around but definitely was cued in on it the second time around given your response was that it was blatiently obvious that they were fucking around on the side following their dinner at the Mexican restaurant. If you remember towards the end, after Gyllenhaal gets his masterpiece footage of the family that was slaughtered in the mansion, he takes a firm stance and approaches her at the station and dishes out exactly what his demands are monetarily, his title and role, as well as what he expects from their sexual relationship. He says something to the extent of “and you’re not going to ask questions and let me do what I ask when we’re alone at your house”. So I think that much couldn’t have been more implied in that he was probably some weird sort of sexual deviant who was dominant in their sexual relationship. So whether they actually showed it or not I thought the insinuation was very much there.

      In closing, I’m surprised you didn’t mention anything about the absolutely astonishing, can’t look away performance by Gyllenhaal. It’s a shame and total travesty that he got snubbed by the Academy, as next to Michael Keaton in “Birdman”, I don’t think I saw a better performance by a lead actor in any movie last year.

      [B+] (after a second time)

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  3. “Nightcrawler” B. Solid movie all around, especially the performance from Gyllenhaal who I think we both know is one of the best actors under age 40 going right now, totally turning his career around for the better (Prince of Persia thought I’d never forgive him for that role). He totally engulfs himself in the role. For some reason, not sure why, I found alot of similarities in his Lewis Bloom character with that of Michael Douglas’s in “Falling Down”. An introvert with a penchant for rage who think he knows everything about life, kept reminding me of that character for some reason. Thought the small screen time Bill Paxton had was hilarious/fantastic. Didnt mind the Rene Russo casting, she was pretty solid. A small critique here was the movie was completely over the top. How he gets away with it all in the end is pretty remarkable/not really beliveable. As soon as those feds came into his apartment they would have seized all film of him going into the triple murder house, no way he would have been able to hide the footage of the murderers getting away, license plate number, etc. Also didn’t really like the opening scene where the he kills the cop at the beginning in hindsight, because you find Bloom’s character constantly scouring the news in the morning at his apartment to try and see his work portrayed to the masses of Los Angeles, yet there is nothing about a killer on the loose who just killed a cop? So some small critiques like that dropped the grade for me, but doesn;t take away from a good flick and Gyllenhaal’s performance. Dont know if it was necessarily Oscar worthy, but very good. Will be looking forward to his next roles in “Southpaw” and “Everest” for sure.

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  4. I guess I just assumed you might have liked this film a bit more than you did. If anything, in looking back, I found myself thinking that I should have given it an A- over a B as it truly felt like a masterpiece.

    I do like your Michael Douglas “Falling Down” comparison. But I thought the 2 characters’ motivations were totally different from one another. In “Falling Down”, Douglas is engulfed in every ounce of everything he hates about society. In “Nightcrawler”, Gyllenhaal is an opportunist, and will stop at just about nothing to achieve the American dream. So in that respect I considered his role to be more drawn out to be like Pacino’s Tony Montana in “Scarface”, with the mental illness aspect of the “obsessive-like” qualities to be more on par with Deniro in “Taxi Driver” or Robin Williams in “One Hour Photo”.

    I think you make a good point about the “suspending belief” aspect. Though I can’t say I necessarily agree with you on considering that in the 2 times I saw it in the theater your question about the police never entered my mind. But in thinking about it, for the same reason I identified in my “Gone Girl” comments, I can see how the law enforcement’s involvement might seem a little far-fetched. But less so with this film over that one. It was a component of it that I was willing to overlook given the way things played out. Sure they could have played hard ball and said “okay we know you have footage of the murders and we’re taking everything away from you for police evidence”. But I also bought into the idea of him defending his rights as a citizen approach, which is essentially “you can’t go anywhere near any of my stuff without a search warrent” which I don’t believe they had obtained prior to them coming to pay him a visit at his apartment.

    I also can’t say I agree with you that he “necessarily” kills the cop (or security guard) at the beginning. What I took away from that scene was that it was his first real lust for thirst as an opportunist. As he sees the man’s watch and knows that it’s something he wants so he takes it. If I remember correctly they show the two of them grappling together and it’s implied that Gyllenhaal comes out on top given that the watch is seen (very intentionally might I add) in almost every scene of the film which reminds us and acts as an underlying metaphor for his sense of greed. But after 2 viewings neither time did I actually think that he may have actually killed the guy. Though I could be wrong.

    Lastly, it sounds like you downplay the Gyllenhaal performance a bit which is a bit puzzling. It’s a career best performance in one of the biggest Oscar snubs in as far back as I can remember. I haven’t seen “The Imitation Game” yet so I can’t compare his performance to Cumberbatch’s. But what I will say with the utmost confidence after lots of contemplation is that he was far better than Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper” and Steve Carrel in “Foxcatcher” (both of whom were nominated). That and after his mesmorizing turn in last year’s “Prisoners” (another Oscar snub if you ask me) I don’t think I can think of anyone else who was more deserving of a nomination than him. Especially if you take into account the amount of weight he lost for the role and his total 100% immersion into the performance. I always say the best performances couldn’t possibly come from any other actor in such in such a respective role. And ask yourself this – can you imagine anyone else in the entire film industry who could have played Gyllenhaal’s character as well as he did? I rest my point.

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