Nightcrawler ★★★★½

Even despite the extremely positive critical and audience response it has received, I think Nightcrawler is destined to be misunderstood in quite a lot of circles.

I can easily see people coming into this expecting a razor-sharp skewering or satire of the sensationalism of local TV news and the ruthlessness of paparazzi, but it's neither of those things. That's not a fault of the film either. Nightcrawler created enough good faith for me to believe that first time director Dan Gilroy was not interested in creating a film along those lines.

Because, to be honest, he's probably not telling us anything that isn't true and he's definitely not telling us anything that we haven't seen a million times before. You can't satirise that which is already utterly ridiculous. When Rene Russo orders her production staff to use the banner "HORROR HOUSE" underneath the footage of an alleged home invasion murder that Jake Gyllenhaal films, that's not satire. That's exactly what these stations do on a daily basis. We've seen it ourselves and we've seen it have the piss taken out of it.

No, Nightcrawler for me is more interested in the portrait of a remorseless and relentless sociopath who creates his very own neo-noir. It's also yet another film that makes perfect use of nighttime Los Angeles, in this case even more effectively than Collateral managed. Gilroy trades in some of the style for more substance, however, using it on his small but perfectly formed cast of characters.

Gyllenhaal has had quite a couple of years, hasn't he? He transformed the enjoyable time-loop sci-fi thriller Source Code into something rather more substantial, dominated a brilliantly acted Prisoners and was both enigmatic and terrifying in the exceptional Enemy. That I'm suggesting this is his best performance just out of these four films alone surely says a lot about just how extraordinary he is here.

This is not a character that an actor can be even slightly unsure of or unsure of portraying. Gyllenhaal's petty criminal turned master freelance crime journalist is a totally and utterly focused shell of a man. Even before he sniffs out an opportunity to make some money from shooting crime and accident scenes, he's shown as someone who could totally succeed in this line of business. He's resourceful, clear-headed and a master of improvisation.

He is a consummate bullshitter with a gift for the gab that doesn't just shut down in a heap of embarrassment or anger if he gets caught out. He just keeps going until he talks himself out of a situation or craftily changes the subject. The only time he loses himself is after Bill Paxton's crew reaches the scene of a light plane crash before he does and I think, actually, if Nightcrawler makes one error it's showing that scene at all. It doesn't need it. We can already see where this character was headed right from the start, the scene adds nothing.

He's a fascinating and horrible man, outwardly looking rather nerdy and unkempt. He doesn't look like anyone who would be as sure-footed in everything he does and says, which further adds to the theory of just what a miracle of ad-lib he is as a person. Gyllenhaal should not have his performance belittled by comparing him to Rupert Pupkin or Travis Bickle even if those comparisons are meant to be complimentary ones. This is a performance that I state can confidently sits side-by-side with Robert De Niro's rightly legendary performances. It's just that good.

It's hard not to say that this whole film revolves around Gyllenhaal but it is completely dominated by him. His scenes with the excellent Riz Ahmed especially are exceptional, especially towards the latter end of the film where Gyllenhaal realises that he's perhaps taught Ahmed too much and the fast-talk tables threaten to be turned. Their relationship comes to a predictable head, perhaps, but one that is completely necessary for the climax of the film to be effective.

Russo's confident news producer shrinks almost as much into the scenery as Ahmed does as Gyllenhaal talks not so much at her as through her during some necessarily uncomfortable and remarkably enunciated exchanges. She starts off as curious and dominant until Gyllenhaal realises who has the true power in their relationship. It's a fascinating about-face that is brutal in its intensity.

You could forgive me for coming in to Nightcrawler slightly doubtful of its potential quality. After all, Gilroy's first writing credit was Freejack. But his debut in a different line of movie work is, let's just say, infinitely more impressive. Nightcrawler is quite stunning.

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