23 feb. 2015

Nightcrawler (8/10): Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal channeling Scorsese and De Niro

“That's my job, that's what I do, I'd like to think if you're seeing me you're having the worst day of your life.”

Dan Gilroy’s feature debut is not only an impressive and dark character study of a persistent and ambitious man, but it also is a social critique of our culture’s obsession over bloody and graphic news stories. It would be easy for Gilroy to center his screenplay on the cheap criticism of today’s TV news stations motto, “If it bleeds, it leads,” but it goes beyond that and makes us wonder why we as an audience eat up those news stories. There is a reason why the media feeds us these graphic stories and it is because we have this morbid fascination for these kind of stories. That is exactly what Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo’s characters represent in this amoral and dark film. It’s not only a criticism towards criminal journalism, but a sharp critique on our society’s fascination with graphic and bloody images. Robert Elswit captures this dark mood through his camera lense to give us a different and stylish view of Los Angeles than what we are used to seeing on film. 

Nightcrawler reminded me a lot of Scorsese’s work in Taxi Driver. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom seems to be in some distant way related to De Niro’s Travis Bickle. Both these characters are dark and psychotic, while at the same time having some sort of charm that attracts us to them. Bloom is a determined and ambitious young man who becomes fascinated with the possibilities in the journalistic world. He likes to drive around at night and is drawn to violence. Unlike Travis Bickle, he has no sympathy for anyone and simply wants to make a career out of his freelancing camera work. The more violence he can capture in his camera, the better opportunities he will have to succeed. There are no moral boundaries when it comes to his work and the transformation he goes through in the film is subtilely played by Gyllenhaal. Jake Gyllenhaal is at his best when he plays these sort of dark characters that move around at night (Prisoners, Zodiac, and Donnie Darko come to mind). 

Rene Russo also delivers an impressive performance and plays a huge role in Bloom’s ascendence as a nightcrawler. The power shift between her character and Bloom is portrayed really well in this film. She seems to be in control of the relationship during their first encounters in the news station, but as Bloom rapidly ascends in the business he takes control of his own destiny. There is an interesting dynamic going on between these two characters and in the end they aren’t too different from each other putting their careers before others. How these two actors were ignored by the Academy for their performances is beyond me, but this film wouldn’t have worked as well as it did if it weren’t for those two powerhouse performances. Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed also give interesting supporting performance. Ahmed (who was also great in Four Lions) plays Rick, a personal assistant of Bloom who is easily manipulated by him, and Paxton is a night journalist who Bloom perceives as his competition. The cast in this film deliver solid roles, but it’s Jake Gyllenhaal who carries the film with his impressive physical transformation. As big of a star as he is, he disappears and becomes this amoral man who will stop at nothing to get to the crime scene first. He gives a magnetic performance and as an audience you never know what to expect next from him. Kudos to Dan Gilroy on his feature debut for delivering such a wonderful thriller and having had the vision to cast Gyllenhaal for a role he was meant to play.

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