Sure this movie came out two weeks ago, but I hadn’t had a chance to see it, and honestly – I wasn’t all that interested. Someone I consider a friend at my local theatre recommended it last night when I saw John Wick again. I believe her exact words were: “Why aren’t you seeing Nightcrawler instead?” So here we go, went back tonight and saw it.
Was it worth it?
Well this has a writer/director combo credit with Dan Gilroy, who for me is a mixed bag of work. I like his work on Freejack and Real Steel, but am not a fan of Bourne Legacy. He is also credited with the screenplay for The Fall, which a friend recommends, but I haven’t seen. The odd thing here is that the body of work I am familiar with is nothing even remotely like this film. They are bright, sharp, even sarcastic, but not this moody, gritty, and intense psychological piece. Perhaps it is because the others are studio films and this is not, instead it is a truly indy film that got a wide release and distribution at the theatres. The film has a rather low production budget of only $8.5 million, which as made up on it’s opening weekend.
The story focuses on Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a down on his luck man living in LA. During his quest to find a job he comes across an accident on the highway and watches a freelance/stringer film crew grab for footage of the moment to sell it to a TV station. The idea crosses his mind that he can do this too and he recruits a second in Rick Garcia (Rick Garcia…no I am not kidding) to help him navigate while he tries to be the first on the scene and get better, bloodier footage to sell to news producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo). His success grows as does his ambition – what will he do for a check, for his ego?
More on that in a second.
I want to talk about performances. There’s only one worth mentioning here and thats Gyllenhaal. I have not seen nearly enough of his body of work, but with Prisoners, Zodiac, Jarhead, and Donnie Darko to his credit he has shown a huge range of dramatic roles requiring different facets of his ability to execute them well. This film gave him yet another facet to explore and give us and that is of someone like Louis. People might be tempted to compare his acting in this to Ryan Gosling in Drive or Only God Forgives. While both show incredible reserved performances I would be forced to disagree as Jake gives us both reserved but an incredibly nuanced performance that shows great levels of emotion and the psychology of his character with rather deft skill. I spent the entire time watching the film trying to understand what makes him tick, even in act three when he tells us (or does he?) what makes him work. It’s a fantastic performance that everyone else tries to keep up with.
Most of the cast could be credited as themselves if they were not playing just slightly fictional versions of their own lives; with many of the local Los Angeles news personnel playing themselves. The more major actors, such as Rene Russo and Bill Paxton are playing secondary roles within the film that truly centers on, lives, and breathes because of Gyllenhaal. Anyone could have played those parts with little effort or change in the outcome, I am not sure about Jake’s part.
From a technical perspective the film hits it’s most major snag from a wide audience acceptance point of view. It is slow. This is a psychological drama with the pacing to match and I was quite honestly bored more than a few times in the movie. It’s shot well, acted well, even written well, but it’s just so slow that it almost becomes unwatchable. If you do watch it though, it does leave you with some questions. The entire drive home I kept thinking
“What would I do?” / “What could I do?”
So from that perspective I can speak to the movies writing as it made me think, by its design, even if it bored me the rest of the time. I think at its heart aside from the psychology of the main actor the movie is a subtle satire on modern news and it’s audiences. What sells. What we consume. What we want to see even if we say otherwise. What the news gives us because it is what we tell them we want by our ratings. There’s something interesting in that line of thinking and I am curious if it is intentional satire or I am just overthinking it.
Nightcrawler is an interesting movie that makes you think. I cannot and will not say I was really entertained by it, but I was intellectually stimulated by it. I sort of expected that going into the movie to not see something actiony, but that it would be dramatic. The movie more than a few times made me feel uncomfortable in a not good way – which I think it should. What is it with October movies this year making me feel uncomfortable and “off”, between this and Fury. Both films really do not hold back on the what if. I have to thank my friend next time I see her, because while I didn’t necessarily enjoy the movie; I enjoyed the concepts and performance. I suppose that is something.
Do I recommend you see it though?
Some – but you need to know what you are getting into. This is a very cerebral film that is designed to make you think and do a little introspection. If you enjoy such things then yes, see the movie. You might be bored at times, but the payoff is there for discussion with like minded individuals.
If you don’t like that kind of movie or want something a bit better paced – give it a pass. Nightcrawler is a good, well made, and mostly well executed movie, but not entirely a watchable one for most audiences. Ironic, I think, that a movie about what the media gives us and what we want them to give us is not a movie most people want to or will see.
If you have already seen it, let me know in the comments. I would love to discuss with you! Bearing in mind the comments are not spoiler free zones. Read at your own risk.