Though I’m pretty premature on the subject, I really think that the future will hold 2014 as one of the greatest years for movies, especially in the 21st century. After going to see Birdman, and being blown away, I can’t lie, but my expectations for Nightcrawler dropped slightly. It’s like when you have an amazing meal, the best meal of your life, no matter what your next meal is, it lacks the same appeal. I fully admit that this happened to me, and heck it may have skewed my opinion of Nightcrawler, but I’m certainly not saying that Nightcrawler was bad, far from it.
Nightcrawler was an extremely satisfying and impressive film. Especially considering that it was the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy. Made with a budget of 8.5 million dollars, an incredibly low amount for a film with such a cast, and the fact that it was filmed on location in Los Angeles really added to the film for me. As someone who lives in Orange County and often spends time in LA, the film really captured the city very well. Though I know this sentiment won’t affect the film’s quality for those of you who haven’t gone to LA. Often times there is a schism in films that depict Los Angeles. Some go too far to show the glitz and glamour of the city, others dwell too much on the strife of the tough areas of the city. What is forgotten many times is that while LA contains plenty of either of these things, there is much of the look and feel of Los Angeles that can be found in almost any city. I guess what I am saying is that LA is more normal than many people think.
Back to the film. I think going into the film I was expecting some deeper message. But at its heart, Nightcrawler is truly a character piece. While it shows some of the more vile practices of the American news media, it doesn’t really reveal anything, because most of what it shows is the kinds of things that we were already assuming. As a character piece though, it truly succeeds. Despite the writing or directing, what will make a character piece is the performance of the main actor or actors. An example I would give is the movie Chaplin. A lot of people hold Chaplin in very high regard. In my opinion the film is a standard paint-by-numbers period story of a rise to fame, a downfall, and then redemption. What made Chaplin good was the performance of Robert Downey Jr., completely immersive and realistic.
While Nightcrawler is no stock story, in fact it’s mighty unconventional, what made the movie was Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance. The movie made me really think about the possibility of how a sociopath might rise through the ranks of society. His performance is darkly humorous at times and frightening at others. My next comment contains some minor spoilers for the beginning of the film so I will write it in a separate paragraph with spoiler markings.
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As other commentators have said, I didn’t like the addition of Lou beating up the security guard at the beginning of the film. In my opinion it was dissonant to how his character acted throughout the rest of the film, and may have harmed the rise of the film’s tension.
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At times Gyllenhaal’s character, Lou, will go off on tangents about business tactics and advancing in a profession. While some actors (along with a director) might have taken this as Lou being sincere. Gyllenhaal makes it subtle yet clear that his character is not being sincere, rather he is merely saying what he believes will make people respect him, trust him, and even be submissive to him. Being as Lou is an obvious sociopath, his circumstances change throughout the film, but he is unfaltering in his unnatural behavior. Rene Russo, as the news director of a struggling morning news show, does go through developments, exhibiting how a person can be manipulated and succumb to the will of a threatening person.
I must note however the performance of Bill Paxton; it is impressive how Paxton constantly chameleons himself into his roles. I’ll admit that on more than one occasion I was not aware that he was in a movie until the credits rolled, and that was true for Nightcrawler. If you’re interested, just take a look at the dichotomy between his character in Nightcrawler and his character in Edge of Tomorrow.
If I were to give any criticism of Nightcrawler it would be on the pacing. The film felt a little repetitive at points, and rather than moving forward consistently it often seemed to go back to scenes that felt slightly unnescary. I understand that interstitial moments were needed to separate the night scenes of the movie, lest the audience not be aware of a time change. However rather than relying on similar scenes, such as Lou in his apartment, they could have provided a bit more variety. But it is so hard for me to deeply criticize this film, as it is Dan Gilroy’s first time directing. I see great potential in him, and the first films of great directors rarely define the rest of their careers (Scorsese, PT Anderson, Fincher).
Cameron’s Rating: 8/10
Repeat Viewing Quality: 4/5
Movie Suggestion: Chaplin
PS: You may have noticed my unique banner for this review. I made it myself, rather than using images I find online, I hope to use more of my own work in the future.