What Went Right With… Nightcrawler?

What Went Right With... Nightcrawler? A photograph of Los Angeles with "Nightcrawler" written over it

It’s rare these days for a Hollywood movie to be anything other than a reboot, a remake, or a merchandise tie-in blockbuster, so when something like “Nightcrawler” comes around it’s surprising to see the public not breathing a collective breath of fresh air as they descend on their local cinema en masse.

“Nightcrawler” is a wonderfully constructed film, the performances by the actors, the storyline, and the directing are all first class. The film tells the story of a small-time thief named Louis Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) who whilst trying to make ends meet (by selling stolen goods such as scrap metal) inadvertently stumbles across a traffic accident and realises that cameramen filming such an incident make more money than his current criminal endeavours. As he steals a bike and tries to sell it to a local pawn brokers, he decides to swap it for a camcorder and a police scanner and slowly begins to learn and then muscle his way into the world of freelance cameramen or “Stringers” as they’re known. Louis then hires a down-and-out homeless man Rick (played by Riz Ahmed) to help with his fledgling business and as Louis’ unscrupulous personality comes to the forefront, he begins to make ever increasing amounts of money from filming accidents and crimes around Los Angeles.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives a great performance as Louis Bloom, the likeable but slightly creepy anti-hero. His character sports a weird mixture of likeable and cold, unpleasant personality traits. As the plot unfolds, Louis’ burgeoning mean streak reminds you more and more of a “Tony Manero” or “Taxi Driver” style obsessive, a slightly sociopathic but enthralling character whom you can’t help liking despite his foibles. The film also features the ever reliable Bill Paxton playing Jake’s more professional Stringer rival and Renne Russo is great at playing the corporate-ladder-climbing news director. Whilst on the topic of the supporting cast, it seems that casual and institutional racism is alive and well, I recall Riz Ahmed not really being talked about during the promotion of the film despite him being the obvious “main” supporting actor. His name isn’t even mentioned in Nightcrawler’s main iMDB page (apparently because Riz isn’t “first billed”) surely Rick was an integral character in the film? Aside from Gyllenhaal, Ahmed in my opinion gives one of the best performances in the movie. As an audience member you instantly empathise and feel sorry for Rick, his mannerisms and charisma is slightly reminiscent of Ratso from “Midnight Cowboy”, and that type of amiable sidekick character is instantly enchanting if acted well (and in this case it is). Plus it has to be said Riz delivered a pretty decent Californian accent for a British guy, who knows why his performance is never really mentioned by the mainstream media. Ahmed and the film itself was and still is strangely underrated for my liking, and peculiarly “Nightcrawler” was completely disregarded by the awards shows, it may have been nominated here and there for Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting, but Dan Gilroy’s writing, directing, and Riz Ahmed’s acting was never really given the praise it deserved. Very strange indeed.

Maybe this is because the film has a dig at contemporary news media, and everyone knows that having an opinion isn’t how you attain fame or respect in our society. If like me you enjoy a little social commentary, “Nightcrawler” makes imperative and relevant statements about the power money has in this business, it also highlights the fact that news corporations bend or even re-write the narrative for ratings, it shows the ethical and moral choices journalists (and the paparazzi) make, and it also shows the prostitute-esque way people climb the career ladder.

Overall “Nightcrawler” is a hugely enjoyable film whether you agree or disagree with the sentiments of the script, the movie is entertaining on its own whether you acknowledge or ignore the viewpoint. To me the film is like watching a low-budget flick from the seventies or eighties and Dan Gilroy as writer and director does a great job of crafting a believable drama-slash-thriller with a captivating atmosphere. For once, a contemporary movie has a good sense of pace and Gilroy in my opinion is especially good at coaxing memorable performances from all the actors involved. For his first time directing, “Nightcrawler” is pretty awesome, it’s great to see an original and entertaining film these days… very impressive indeed.

Great News.

Writing: 7/10

Directing: 7/10

Acting: 9/10

Overall: 8/10

5 replies »

  1. Nightcrawler is an outstanding film which brutally satirises the mainstream media. It shows how the media exploits tragedies, fabricates and exaggerates anything for higher ratings. When Rene Russo’s character says “We find our viewers are more interested in urban crime creeping into the suburbs. What that means is a victim or victims, preferably well-off and/or white, injured at the hands of the poor, or a minority.”, you could imagine that is what the media thinks of viewers and minorities in general. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character may have been unlikeable, but that is the movie’s intention. Nightcrawler is purposely criticising freelance reporters and to some extent; journalists. I think this is a movie with very few flaws. In 20 years time, this will be seen as a classic.
    9/10 for me

  2. Great article, once again. Nightcrawler really is another wonderful film I’ve seen made more recently.

    But sadly, it never seem to get enough recognition it deserves in most awards shows back in 2014 & 2015 and had a lack of widespread attention to a majority of people, especially here in Asia (more specifically Southeast Asia), where almost all of us Asians here have been consuming and watching more and more big-budgeted, bloated and lame Hollywood sequels, reboots, remakes (that includes the possibly endless releases of comic book movies) coming out in theaters almost every year…

    And the thing that irks me more is that some Asians from my place who are in that certain group of people consuming such lame Hollywood flicks every time in the cinemas had the urge to complain that all movies that are out TODAY are ALL terrible. They’re just NOT investigative enough to search for other recent films that were made outside of the mainstream.

    This guy from Twitter says it best:

    • To be fair, most people’s gripe with film today is actually with MAINSTREAM film rather than cinema in general. That criticism to me is somewhat deserved, after all we haven’t had something like a Jaws, Back To The Future, Die Hard, or Terminator 2 for more than a decade (an original and credible blockbuster). Reboots and remakes are fucking up mainstream film so much that there’s no originality allowed in Hollywood movies any more, yes you can search for films like Nightcrawler but where’s all the entertaining, satisfying, mainstream stuff? Action movies died with the advent of comic book movies, Michael Bay keeps making shite while John McTiernan isn’t given work despite being out of prison for a good few years now – profit over talent is Hollywood’s unspoken motto these days.

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