Well, let not the title deceive you to think that Jake Gyllenhaal was a bad actor who has found his calling through this film. I feel he is one of the underrated actors of Hollywood. His performances in Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac and Prisoners are ample evidence of the fact that he is a very involved actor. However, in Brokeback and Prisoners, he was pushed to the supporting zone despite being an equally pivotal character as the official lead. Thus, it’s gratifying to see him in NIGHTCRAWLER, a movie which he carries off almost entirely on his shoulders.
An indie-styled film helmed by debutante director Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler was possibly the kind of project Jake wanted to immerse himself in, which is evident from the fact that the actor is also one of the producers on the film. We see Jake as Louis Bloom – a 30something man trying to find something worthwhile to do in his life. His hollow cheeks and bulging eyes accentuate his lean frame (Jake lost around 30 pounds for the film), and when he smiles almost innocuously, he looks so creepy that you can foresee him taking a hammer and smashing someone to death. He is a psychopath who behaves with such disarming sweetness at times that you feel there’s something very murky under the surface.
Yet, as the film progresses, the naivety gives way to indifference – a certain amount of impassivity that ensures you that this man wouldn’t even flinch an eyebrow if he were to see someone getting murdered right in front of him or if someone pointed a gun at him while he held his camera. Yet, what Louis wants to hold on to and makes no bones about it is his bargaining power – a certain sense of control that he obtains from negotiating. He is often left without choice but he doesn’t want to give up on his freedom to bargain. The entire dynamics of demand and supply is reflected in his penchant to haggle, and the gradual increase in his power over the news agency for which he is nothing but a freelancer.
After being rejected at other places, Louis accidentally stumbles upon the idea of turning a photographer for TV news. He realises that he not only has the sheer determination to succeed but also has the amorality required for the job. He finds his counterpart in Nina (Rene Russo) – a Morning News Director who claims that the ideal footage would be that of a woman running on the streets of a posh neighbourhood with her throat slit. And Lou promises to get that. With an indolent sidekick Rick (Riz Ahmed), who gradually becomes a crucial member of Lou’s expeditions but lacks the eagerness, Lou starts from filming and moves on altering the way they look and to finally staging them – with an eventuality so brutal that you tremble in your seat.
Besides presenting us with one of the scariest protagonists of the recent years, Dan Gilroy also makes a very relevant comment on the intrusive yet indifferent approach of Media – that keep claiming to help people, but don’t really do much besides investing into stories that are TRP friendly. He tells us how the obsession with making profits has massively undermined the strife for ethical journalism. It also begs the question about how much of what we know is the truth and how much is really what the media make us believe.
Gilroy’s vision is ably supported by Robert Elswit’s sparkling cinematography, which captures the night of Los Angeles in a very different manner, almost like a ghost city. The colours are bright but not glossy, the frames are wide but dimly lit. And Lou’s half shadowed face within the car is almost like a spectre travelling through the city. The mood of the film, which is a very crucial element here, is complemented by James Howard’s background score, which remains loyal to the noir thriller genre of the film, but doesn’t go overboard to stand taller than the scene.
Having said that, the film is not perfect – it leaves a few things to be desired in the writing and editing department. Lou’s exponential growth from a rookie to an expert seems way too convenient and almost without some expected hiccups. It seems that whatever Lou touches turns gold. At the same time, some scenes are drawn and we are given too much to understand the setting and establishment of the story. Fortunately, the flaws of the first half are redeemed in the second as Lou’s aloofness becomes almost vicious.
The performances are uniformly good, without any false note by any of the actors. Rene Russo as the avaricious News Director is spot on in her cold-blooded pragmatism and increasing fondness for Louis. Riz Ahmed (earlier seen in Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist) plays the timorous sidekick with just the correct amount of enthusiasm. However, above all stands Jake Gyllenhaal, who literally takes things to a different level altogether. He sinks his teeth into the character and makes it frighteningly alive. He should be one of the top contenders for the Oscar next year.
I have always believed that the amoral is more dangerous than the immoral – the one who doesn’t differentiate between the Good and the Evil is tougher to rely on that the guy who purposefully does the Evil. And Louis is one such character who consciously blurs the boundaries between the Right and the Wrong, and scares us with his poker face
PS: A review is a personal opinion and you may not agree to what I have to say.