CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)
Movie Review by Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A grisly car accident. A bloodied body lies next to a mangled car. Police cars with flashing lights surround the area. Rescue workers hustle about, while reporters with cameras close in on the carnage. A police officer attempts to push the reporters back.
POLICE OFFICER: Get back! You’re too close! Get back twenty feet! Now!
(The reporters ignore him and rush towards the bloodied body, taking video footage. The blood-soaked body is L.L. SOARES, who suddenly opens his eyes and lunges towards the cameras with a demented vicious expression on his face. The reporters turn and flee, running right past MICHAEL ARRUDA, who approaches L.L.)
MICHAEL ARRUDA: Thanks, buddy. With those guys gone, now we can do our review.
L.L. SOARES: Now you can do the review. I’m outta here.
MA: You’re leaving?
LS: Yep, I’m off to see another movie. I wanted to review NIGHTCRAWLER, but I had to skip it because we just have so many movies to review for Cinema Knife Fight these days.
MA: It’s nice to be popular. Well, good luck. You might want to wash up first before you go to the movies. You’re a bit bloody.
LS: So? This way I can scare folks who talk during the movie. See ya! (Exits).
MA: As L.L. said, tonight we’re—I’m reviewing NIGHTCRAWLER, a new thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
NIGHTCRAWLER kinda snuck up on us here at Cinema Knife Fight. It wasn’t one of the movies we had originally planned to review, but it got a lot of hype, and I saw plenty of trailers leading up to it, and it looked really interesting. By the time it came out, I was into seeing it, and I’m glad I did.
In NIGHTCRAWLER, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sociopath named Louis Bloom who spends his evenings stealing scrap metal and other items in order to sell them and make some cash. It’s clear from the outset that Louis is no ordinary thief, as he’s well-read, well-spoken, and also in desperate need of a job, which is something he can’t land.
One night, he witnesses a couple of freelancers taking video of a grisly accident scene, and he strikes up a conversation with a cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) and he learns that Loder gets paid by TV news stations for his footage.
Louis buys a cheap video camera and a police radio and scanner, and he starts filming accident scenes. He learns that he needs to get there faster than everybody else, and also closer, which means inciting the wrath of the police officers at the scene who want him to remain back twenty feet.
POLICE OFFICER: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Twenty feet, buddy! Let’s go!
MA: Are you speaking to me?
POLICE OFFICER: You see anyone else here?
MA: Can’t you see I’m reviewing a movie?
POLICE OFFICER: You’re going to be reviewing a movie from the back of my squad car in a minute if you don’t move back twenty feet! Now let’s go!
MA: Technically, there is no crime scene here. My buddy L.L. Soares and I staged this for our Cinema Knife Fight review, so I don’t think I need to move back twenty feet.
POLICE OFFICER: Staging a crime scene? You realize that’s illegal.
MA: So it is. Hey, isn’t that your sergeant over there waving at you?
POLICE OFFICER: What sergeant? (Turns around.)
(MA runs, jumps into a car, and speeds away.)
MA: Slight change of plans. Okay, so let me get back to the plot summary.
Louis obtains grisly close-up footage of a bleeding victim, and when he brings it to a local news station, it catches the eye of news department head Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who buys the footage from him. Louis hires a young assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed) to help him with the camerawork and with the GPS so they can get to the crime scenes as quickly as possible, and suddenly Louis is bringing Nina incredible footage faster than anyone else. The news station is lagging way behind in the ratings, and Nina sees Louis’ cutting edge work as her chance to save the station.
When Louis crosses the line, using unconventional and often illegal methods to obtain his videos, Nina looks the other way and does nothing to discourage him from capturing his intense footage.
(A police car with flashing lights pursues MA’s car.)
I really liked NIGHTCRAWLER, for two reasons in particular. One, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a phenomenal performance, and two, this one has an edge and an unpredictability about it that goes a long way and lifts it above its shortcomings, including a story that doesn’t always hold water.
Let’s start with Gyllenhaal. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen Gyllenhaal looking terribly gaunt and much thinner than normal. That’s because he lost close to twenty pounds for the role, and it shows. He looks like a friggin vampire! It’s an intense look for him, and physically he really captures the essence of the character.
Gyllenhaal gives Louis such tremendous energy and vitality that everything he does, no matter how outlandish, you believe it. He also has a way of speaking to people that is detached yet spot-on. In other words, he’s clear and concise with what he says, but says everything with no regard for other people, and so he comes off as a cold fish, yet there’s something charming about his drive and focus, and you can easily see why in spite of his shortcomings and manipulations a woman like Nina might find him attractive.
He’s a fearless and relentless negotiator, and he gets everything he wants. I should have hated the guy, but there was something very likable about him. His philosophy is to work harder than everybody else, and that’s how you become a success. How can you not like that?
(MA runs a red light, speeding through a busy intersection, leaving a huge pile-up of crashed cars behind him.)
One of the best and most telling lines in the movie comes when Louis’ partner Rick complains about the way Louis speaks to people, telling him that he has no idea how to deal with people. Louis, always in the know about himself, responds by telling Rick that it’s not that he doesn’t know how to deal with people, but that he doesn’t like people. For Louis, other people don’t matter. They are just a means for him getting what he wants.
I’ve been a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal for a while, going back to one of his earliest roles in OCTOBER SKY (1999). I enjoyed him here much more than in the previous film I saw him in, PRISONERS (2013), the kidnapping thriller with Hugh Jackman. Here in NIGHTCRAWLER, Louis Bloom might be my favorite character that Gyllenhaal has created.
The rest of the cast is okay, but to be honest the only role of substance in NIGHTCRAWLER is Gyllenhaal’s. Rene Russo does what she can with the role of Nina. I wasn’t one hundred per cent sold on her character. She plays this powerful newscast chief, and yet she allows Louis to run circles around her and pretty much set the tone for their relationship, both professional and personal, and he effortlessly dictates the terms of their dealings together. I expected more from Nina, and I didn’t completely buy that Louis would have her wrapped around his finger so easily. I get that Louis is this compelling captivating character, and I get that Nina is under pressure to improve her ratings, but still, I thought she’d be better at putting up a fight.
The two characters also become involved romantically, or at least sexually. There’s not much of a romance. Louis pursues Nina because he can, and again, I expected much more of a protest from Nina. I was disappointed that the film didn’t follow up more on this part of the story. The sexual angle is downplayed, and Gyllenhaal and Russo share about as much chemistry on screen as some of the shooting victims in Louis’ videos. A heightened sexual element would have added more to the story.
(Suddenly a half dozen police cars are chasing MA’s car.)
POLICE Voice: Pull your vehicle over!
MA: I’m trying to review a movie here! Jeesh!
The rest of the cast is serviceable. Riz Ahmed is fine as Louis’ young partner Rick, but I was most disappointed with the Bill Paxton role. I like Paxton a lot, and his role as a fellow cameraman is a small one that I really thought would be developed into a major supporting character, but this doesn’t happen.
I really enjoyed the script by writer/director Dan Gilroy. Gilroy previously wrote THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012), the most recent Bourne movie, and the one starring Jeremy Renner. That film and its story were much better than I expected, and I think Gilroy’s screenplay here for NIGHTCRAWLER is even better.
The best part of NIGHTCRAWLER is the character of Louis, thanks to both the acting talents of Jake Gyllenhaal and the fine writing by Dan Gilroy. Louis should be a deplorable character, but he’s not. The story is crafted so when Louis is breaking the law to get his video footage, you almost want him to get away with it. There’s something very Walter White-like in Louis’ drive and determination. Part of it is the realization that life is incredibly difficult, and success often does come for those who work harder than everybody else, and when you see Louis doing this, even though he’s a sociopath with no regard for other people, there’s something admirable about his resolve.
Did I think success came too easily for Louis? Perhaps. Nothing he does seems to go wrong. It wouldn’t have hurt to have Louis fail once in a while.
The message about the media in this movie is also spot-on. There was a time when I would have viewed this story as too over-the-top and not very believable. I mean, what professional news organization would allow a guy like Louis to do the things he was doing to get video footage? But judging by what I see and read about TV news, I don’t think it’s farfetched now. If you watch TV news, you see with regularity the kinds of graphic and sensationalistic footage that Louis was shooting in this movie. Television news appears to be already at the stage depicted by Louis’ work in this film.
Dan Gilroy does just as good a job behind the camera, which is impressive since it’s his first time directing a movie. This one is not by the numbers. There are some neat scenes throughout as well as some that generate a decent amount of suspense. My favorite sequence in the film happens when Louis alerts the police that two suspects wanted in a violent home invasion case are sitting in a restaurant. Louis has set this all up so he can get the footage, and as he and Rick take their positions to film what happens, and the police quickly move in towards the crowded restaurant, the suspense mounts to almost Hitchcockian proportions, as everyone in the audience knows the suspects are packing guns.
This is followed by a high speed chase that it is one of the more exciting car chases I’ve seen in the movies this year.
(MA drives down the wrong way of a one way street, pulls into a parking lot, drives up the side of a building, crashes through a window, drives through a hallway, then bursts out another window, sails through the air and lands on a road as MA continues driving.)
MA: And it’s far more realistic than the one I’m involved in right now.
It’s up there with the chases in NEED FOR SPEED (2014) and DRIVE (2011), which is appropriate, as I mentioned Walter White from BREAKING BAD earlier in this review, and White himself Bryan Cranston starred in DRIVE and his buddy Jesse, Aaron Paul starred in NEED FOR SPEED.
NIGHTCRAWLER is a compelling film driven along by a powerhouse performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, one that is Oscar-worthy, and it features tight direction and a creative script by Dan Gilroy. It’s one of my favorite movies of the year.
I give it three and a half knives.
(MA pulls into a parking lot, parks his car, gets out and stretches his legs. Suddenly he’s surrounded by police cars all screeching to a halt. Police officers jump out of the car, drawing their weapons. They run at and then past MA where they quickly apprehend two armed suspects.)
MA (to camera): You didn’t think they were after me, did you?
(MA strolls past the arrest and enters the movie theater.)