Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Nightcrawler (2014, Dan Gilroy)

One may not have expected a whole lot from the directorial debut from the writer of The Bourne Legacy and Reel Steal, which are two of Dan Gilroy's most recent credits. Such superficiality will easily be discarded after witnessing Nightcrawler; a tale of human depravity in which Jake Gylenhaal's Louis Bloom hunts crime like a storm chaser and reveals to having nothing in common with the living but rather the dead as he at first observes and then constructs like a conductor of controlled chaos. 

Throughout this nightmare-of-a-noir it brought to mind the likes of Scorsese's Taxi Driver and even more fittingly The King of Comedy, of Cronenberg's Videodrome and Crash, and at times with its finger on the black button of comedy - Mary Harron's American Psycho. But Nightcrawler manages to retain its ideas and executions and becomes a great piece of cinema instead of just evoking the kind of great cinema embedded in its DNA.

All of these evocations stem mostly from the central performance of Gylenhaal rather than stylistic choices elsewhere in the film. This is the type of character rarely seen in modern 'empathetical' cinema in which a film's enjoyment is too often measured on how relatable the characters are. Lou Bloom is a sociopathic bottom feeder from the beginning as a copper wire, bike stealing hood just barely making a living; his presence looms and consumes every scene and as his transformation into crime 'reporting' turns into a lucrative financial path, he becomes more vampiric as he feeds off of the dead with his wide unflinching eyes acting like a Satanic CCTV system awaiting the next dose of carnage.

Perhaps the most revealing moments in Nightcrawler come when Gilroy goes out of his way to delay his cuts from scene to scene - a decision that adds a strange extra space to Gylenhaal's performance that is driven on ticks and minute details. He is unforgettable here and his gaunt appearance and shark-like ambition is more night-terror than crawler.  In one of the most tense sequences - a shootout in a highway diner - Lou truly begins to meddle and treat his job as an act of creation rather than observation; his commands and vision equating him with the likes of a film director a la Peeping Tom (1960). It's at this point in which the film takes a shattering turn as its monstrous roots sprout and take on new horrific life. 

Moments such as Bloom having a meltdown at his own reflection after a rival coverage team get the scoop before him haunts long in the mind. So does the monologue delivered with eerie calculated precision at Rene Russo's News Director of whom he delivers to and is paid by. His manipulation of anyone and everyone around him, especially her, is sickening on a level with the depravity in their line of work. It would be easy to feel sorry for Russo's Nina Romina if she wasn't Bloom's enabler - a factor that bites back at her as she must lower herself to him in perverse ways only hinted at - and that she is happy with the product gained at the end of it. Romina is unflinching, remote, and steel - a figure of modernity and an armoured product of her cynical surrounding.

Gilroy gives his film a retro sheen and shoots in an old-fashioned muscular manner using effective framing devises to tell so very effectively this story both so modern and yet drenched in Gothic hallmarks. Robert Elswitt's expected sublime photography certainly encompasses the vision of the film as he balances the levels of darkness and neon highlights, as does James Newton Howard's score that blends modernity with eighties guitar-licks. 

Nighcrawler is a stunning piece of work on almost every level; It's a neon drenched horror film about a man feasting off the dead of the night, a monster movie as well as a character study, a black comedy verging on satire with a perverse meta-sense of cinematic blood letting that hangs over it. It delivers one of the most unsettlingly memorable performances of the year and leaves us with one hell of a closing line, arguably a punch line, backed most scarily of all with a confident smile. But after spending this much time with Lou Bloom - how could we expect anything else?

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