Nightcrawler Review: Going Behind the Scenes

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There isn’t a single comfortable moment in Nightcrawler‘s just shy of two hours runtime. That’s because Jake Gyllenhaal has created a character so inhuman that has very human goals like success and love. But none of it feels quite right.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou. He’s a thief, as we see him beat up a security guard for his watch right at the start. But he eventually finds another profession that attracts him, local broadcast news. After driving by a car accident, he sees a few men with cameras filming the scene that plan to sell it to local news stations. Because Lou is alive in 2014, he can very easily join this business on his own accord. Which is exactly what he does.

Next thing we know, he’s filming paramedics treating a shooting victim at the crime scene. The shots he gets are bloody and we wonder if they can even air. But Nina (Rene Russo), a news director at a station with very low ratings, is just desperate and shallow enough to let it go.

The majesty of Nightcrawler is that it presents the actual filming of these gruesome events in such a creepy way, but when the complete package is shown on the air, it is hardly an exaggeration of what we see on local news broadcasts on a daily basis.

The film serves as a commentary of what news stations broadcast because they know it will get ratings. It also makes you question how much the news may or may not be controlling the story, as Lou eventually finds himself in a position to do.

With a character so far removed from common morals, we’re given a gateway into this world through Rick (Riz Ahmed), an assistant Lou hires to navigate and get some different angles. Gyllenhaal and Ahmed play off each other brilliantly, both delivering some of the best acting we’ve seen on the big screen this year. Rick sees this job through our eyes. He sees just how dangerous Lou is making this line of work.

Sadly, the ending does little to justify or punish anybody for doing anything in the movie. We’re left hanging like so many other films that like to just end without putting a period on the sentence simply because that’s the real world, right?

This is not a film clever enough to pull that off, but it is well-acted, tense, and thought-provoking. The media commentary isn’t as subtle here as it was in Gone Girl, but its very presence ensures that studios are taking more risks on wide releases like this. Nightcrawler will go down as one of Gyllenhaal’s best career performances and a great debut from (hopefully) successful director Dan Gilroy. But it lacks the experience is inch itself into being something more. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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