Part scathing media satire, part scorching crime thriller, Nightcrawler portrays the ghoulish nocturnal world of the freelance camera crews who supply sensation-hungry TV stations with footage of crashes, fires, shootings and other scenes of urban mayhem.
When Los Angeles misfit Louis Bloom stumbles upon this world by accident one night, he instantly knows he has found his calling. Played with nervy intensity by a rawboned, angular Jake Gyllenhaal, Bloom is a beady-eyed outsider desperate to make his way in life and not at all scrupulous how he does so.
An autodidact who has hoovered up facts from the internet, he is fluent in the bogus jargon of self-help manuals and corporate mission statements. Cynical TV news editor Nina Romina (Rene Russo) isn’t swayed by the spiel when he brings her footage showing the bloody aftermath of a carjacking, but she is impressed by his eye for carnage.
An ageing veteran clinging to her career by her painted nails, she knows that stoking fear pulls in viewers. ‘Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,’ she tells Bloom, urging him to film events that depict urban crime creeping into the suburbs, preferably with a white victim and an ethnic minority perpetrator.
Hiring the naïve, homeless Rick (Riz Ahmed) as his assistant, his car kitted out with police radio scanner and cameras, Bloom prowls the LA freeways looking for havoc and gore, unabashed about breaking the law himself if it secures him a grisly scoop.
As Bloom steps further and further over the ethical line, screenwriter-turned-director Dan Gilroy (co-writer of The Bourne Legacy, directed by his brother Tony) ratchets up the tension, while cinematographer Robert Elswit gives the electrified LA nightscape a hellish beauty. But the thrills and dazzle of high-speed car chases and shootouts don’t distract from the film’s satirical, admonitory aim.
With his unblinking gaze and creepy body language, Gyllenhaal’s ruthless scavenger is clearly a psychopath, yet the culture that encourages and rewards him is far scarier.
Certificate 15. Runtime 117 mins. Director Dan Gilroy.
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