3 November 2014


Is there a chance that the guy blogging as The Mad Prophet might just really like scathing TV newsroom satire? Definitely, but even aside from that particular taste, writer-director Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler is an unmissable thriller, with a transformative performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as sociopathic self-starter Lou Bloom.

Unemployed Lou is scraping together a meagre living, until he discovers the opportunities available to freelance cameramen who go out after dark and film breaking stories for local breakfast news. Tooling up with a shoddy camcorder, a police scanner and an ignorance of human tragedy, Lou travels around Los Angeles after the sun goes down with one maxim in mind- "if it bleeds, it leads." He quickly captures the attention of a struggling local news producer, who pays him handsomely for his efforts, but nobody is quite prepared for how far Lou will go to advance his fledgling career.

Let's get the "Bamf" jokes out of the way early, because I don't believe that the comic book namesake is entirely coincidental here. Gilroy's impeccable, propulsive script plays out much like Batman Begins for a street-level supervillain, who thinks little of the human cost of his enterprise, which he dubs Video Production News. While he goes through the motions of acquiring gadgets, a cool car and even a sidekick, in the form of Riz Ahmed's unwitting "intern", he also crosses every line with which he's confronted, be it a moral imperative or a yellow tape that says "do not cross".

The objective craziness of such individuals' arcs is brought out by the more adult tone, and by Lou's ruthless personality. Jake Gyllenhaal has created one of the most slappable characters you'll ever see, spouting motivational poster slogans like "If you want to win the lottery, you have to earn the money to buy a ticket" and generally sounding like the kind of person who goes on The Apprentice. He's sycophantic towards people who can help him get further ahead of the game, until it's time to turn on them and stand on their neck, as we see in a brief appearance from Bill Paxton as a rival cameraman and Rene Russo as the news producer who eagerly clambers aboard his crazy train.

Gyllenhaal has undergone a startling physical transformation for the role, looking stretched out and drained of colour. Lou really does look like he's been awake for days on end, but his unerring crocodile smile still makes him feel like a dangerous and unpredictable presence. His interactions with Russo's character are relentlessly creepy even before he makes his intentions clear at a professional dinner between the two. Russo gets the kind of role that isn't usually going for actors of her stature and grabs it with both hands, but Gyllenhaal's cumulative performance is skin-crawling, and comfortably the best that he's ever given.

In his directorial d├ębut, Gilroy's photography of LA at night also owes an obvious stylistic debt to Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive and Michael Mann's Collateral, but the mood and tone here is entirely its own. To hear freelancers squabbling over who gets the lucrative exclusive coverage of the ever-decreasing crime in the city and the producers squabbling over what's acceptable to air, sets the terms nicely and provides the perfect environment in which the driven, selfish and loathsome Lou can get ahead.

There are times when the newsroom satire stretches credulity, but when the news team don't send him packing after one early submission, it's clear that Gilroy wants to eviscerate a culture that will go to any lengths to spread fear on a near industrial scale in the quest for ratings. The scenes which do ring eerily true, including a couple of morning anchors' banal commentary on an disturbing extended video of a murder scene, lend a darkly comic tone to a film that's mostly about terrible, terrible people.

Not only is Nightcrawler one of the best films of the year, it also feels destined to be screened in Media Ethics lectures as a comprehensive guide to What Not To Do. Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom is transfixing in his amorality and the performances of the supporting cast, from Riz Ahmed's desperation for approval and employment to Rene Russo's thinly veiled mixture of disgust and admiration, all orbit around this powerful turn. It's not Network, but it's a superb thriller with a coiled satirical script and no small amount of great, unforgettable scenes.

Nightcrawler is now showing at cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Nightcrawler, why not share your comments below? You can also add Lou Bloom on LinkedIn- somebody on this film's marketing team is a fucking genius.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch

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