It’s very easy to roll your eyes when an actor decides to either shed a lot of weight for a role, or pile it on. The idea that they’ve got one eye on the awards season often provokes the simple question of, “is it really necessary?” Well in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, featuring a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal in the leading role, the answer is a bonafide ‘yes’, as it’s all part of creating an on-screen monster; which represents one of the finest, most nuanced cinematic creations this year.
The character is Louis Bloom, a troubled mercenary, who is harrowingly persuasive, intimidating and vindictive in his approach. In-between work, he is inspired to get involved in ‘nightcrawling’, where cameramen arrive on crime scenes to take footage for the hungry pack of news stations to run. So Louis buys himself a camera, hires an assistant (Riz Ahmed), and sets off into the night; hacking in to a police radio system to discover where crimes are taking place. His lack of ethics mixed with an unabashed determination make him something of a success, though in spite of producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo) paying Louis for his efforts, whether his callous, undignified and intrusive approach is anywhere near acceptable remains to be seen.
There’s an unforgettable mood to this piece, as similarly to the likes of Drive, this is a stylistic endeavour, and yet if you spend too long in Louis Bloom’s company, you feel like you’ll need a shower; such is the grotty, bleak atmosphere. Much of that comes from the unforgiving depiction of the LA streets at night, where this tale is set. It’s not the Hollywood we’re used to seeing; with all the glitz and glamour. This is seedy and gloomy, and in many regards, somewhat more representative of real life. The entire intensity and volatility that exists in the movie is most dependent on Gyllenhaal however, and he does not disappoint: turning in one of the very best performances in his illustrious career. He’s unhinged and you never feel as though you have any control over him. He is unpredictable and puts himself first above anything else, as a fascinating, if terrifying entry point into this world.
Gilroy explores a pertinent debate too, as to whether news networks are in the wrong for presenting such material, or if it’s feeding the public’s morbid curiosity. Yet wherever you stand on the issue, the acclaim for this unforgettable feature is likely to be unanimous, because Nightcrawler will stick with you, and while that’s usually a good thing, such is the dark spirit and atmosphere of this film, that you may rather wish it hadn’t.