By Ian Beavers
I’m not gonna lie. I have no idea what to write here. Not without giving away the majority of Nightcrawler’s plot points, anyway.
See, I am a believer in film’s ability to effect us, the audience, in deep, emotional, and visceral ways. Think about the first time you watched the first five minutes of Pixar’s Up, or the first scene in Inglorious Basterds. We’re left in deep puddles made of tears, or on the edge of our seats, hearts racing. While not every movie out there touches us in these ways, we don’t know what to expect each time we go into a movie theater to see a new release. And those surprising times when a movie does manage to reach us in those intangible but somehow very specific ways… It’s usually a delight.
But in the case of Nightcrawler, much is asked of the viewer up front and over the course of the story… to the point where even labeling Jake Gyllenhaal’s character an “anti-hero” seems generous. He plays a slimy, skeezeball of a human being, which in turn makes it difficult for the viewer to truly root for him. Put that in contrast to an absolutely fascinating story that is able to tap into those visceral feelings I mentioned before… and and you’re left feeling conflicted through the entirety of the film.
Personally, I kept waiting for a turn… For something to happen that might push Gyllenhaal’s character into a more traditional story mold. Through the whole movie I waited to see something that I was used to seeing in every other movie out there, and it simply never came. Was this the intention of the filmmakers? Most likely… Almost assuredly! And as a result, I was left in an uncomfortable place, watching this person that I loathed make his way through a genuinely compelling story. My heart was seething and racing simultaneously a number of times over the course of the film… And quite frankly, that is not a combination of emotions that I am used to having while visiting my local movie theater.
I would be remiss at this point to neglect mentioning Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. It’s an absolute tour-de-force… He completely embodies Louis Bloom as the story carries him through the streets of Los Angeles in search of footage for the next big “breaking news” story. Personally, I maintain that you should never be able to look at a character in a film and see the actor standing there instead… And the ability for an actor to surpass his or her own personal identity to present the audience with a complete version of the character they are playing is what separates truly great actors from the just-good ones. I’ll admit, I’ve never included Gyllenhaal in the former category, but after watching Nightcrawler, I would be perfectly happy doing so. I wasn’t able to see him at all behind Louis Bloom’s sunken-in, manic eyes.
So sure, the writing can be spotty, and the tone is a bit off-key at times… but the film still manages to be a fascinating watch, and doesn’t pull any punches as a result. And since it ultimately presents itself as a character piece rather than a story piece… The issues with writing and tone can be forgiven. If you’re a fan of watching movies that completely subvert your movie-watching expectations, Nightcrawler is a must-see.