NIGHTCRAWLER is Ambitious, Anarchic, and Intense – Movie Review

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It is a truth universally acknowledged that creepy Jake Gyllenhaal is the best Jake Gyllenhaal.

This really shouldn’t have been all that hard to figure out, considering that Gyllenhaal made his reputation playing a haunted, schizophrenic teen with a skeletal faced bunny as his Jiminy Cricket. Yet too much of his career at this point has been spent trying to fit Gyllenhaal’s square peg style into the round hole setting of a conventional leading man. Like Michael Keaton, Gyllenhaal is ill suited to straightlaced roles. His is a character that is intrinsically a little off.

Despite its many virtues and occasional missteps, Nightcrawler is above all else an ideal showcase for creepy Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal acts like a malfunctioning super computer who has been force fed a Dave Ramsey book and now spits out random phrases in an imperfect attempt to mimic human behavior. He’s at the center of virtually every scene in Nightcrawler. An emancipated, desperate, cipher who is somehow pitiful despite his dangerous nature. He makes anything, from laughing at Danny Kaye to batch capturing footage look deeply unsettling. Gyllenhaal is never anything less than magnetic. The paces the movie puts him through- eh…

Gyllenhaal’s character starts off in a kind of nightmarish Horatio Alger story, a scavenger who does not so much work his way out of the gutter as up it. Gyllenhaal stumble upon the world of freelance news video, which pays a high price for footage of the aftermath of crime, accidents and assorted misery. The closer to the bloody details you get, the higher the payday. Gyllenhaal discovers that he has even less scruples than his morally vacant rivals and quickly rises to the top of his profession by doing what they won’t dream of. Pushing himself further and further by degrees into ever more unthinkable acts.


And that’s basically the problem, Nightcrawler over plays its hands. While Gyllenhaal is all too believable and frightening as a sociopathic hustler willing to drop all decency for a chance at a higher paycheck, in the film’s final act he ends up transformed into Hannibal Lecter with a Panasonic. Not Silence Of The Lambs Hannibal either, more like Hannibal Rising Hannibal. Writer director Dan Gilroy doesn’t sell the crucial transition from sociopath to psychopath and as a result Nightcrawler snaps its suspension of disbelief right when it should be nailing you through the heart.

It’s a shame that Nightcrawler doesn’t quite stick the landing because there is much to recommend the film beyond Gyllenhaal’s performance. Dan Gilroy shoots a fine nighttime LA, recalling Michael Mann’s Collateral, but providing its own unique panoramic of the city, covering the whole of the sprawl rather than the isolated neighborhoods typically favored by Los Angeles set films. Individual sequences create a stomach churning amount of tension and momentum. The underused Rene Russo turns in a great performance as the station manager who starts as Gyllenhaal’s mentor, becomes his patron and finally his victim all because she makes the mistake of thinking she’s just as amoral as he is. Bill Paxton turns in a fun performance as a sleazy rival who also underestimates him.

Nightcrawler may falter in its final act but its failure is one of execution, not nerve and that makes its flaws easy to forgive. In a time when films are increasingly homogenized, its ambition and idiosyncrasies are welcome.

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The Author

Bryce Wilson

Bryce Wilson

Confirmed film geek and literary nerd. Writer for Paracinema and Art Decades Magazine, columnist for the San Luis Obispo New Times and author of Son Of Danse Macabre. Resides in Austin, TX.