Sunday, 30 November 2014

Nightcrawler (2014) - Movie Review

Directorial debuts are kind of a bizarre thing to see happen in real time. Sure, looking at films like Alien 3 or The Pleasure Garden can be interesting considering what their respective directors David Fincher and Alfred Hitchcock would go on to make, but that’s only because of the gift of hindsight and knowing that they did go on to make more movies and become regarded as great directors. It’s another thing to see a directorial debut and it being the only thing to go on: It could be a great film and then the director drops off of the radar; it could be awful and yet the director goes on to make even more like it; or any happy medium between the two. A recent example of this going right would be Chronicle, an excellent found footage movie (Yes, those exist) whose director Josh Trank is currently working on the new Fantastic Four movie. Will we get such a success story with this?

The plot: Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a small-time thief who, after seeing a cameraman (Bill Paxton) film the scene of a car crash to sell to a news channel, decides to get into the business himself. However, the more dedicated he gets to the line of work, the more unhinged he becomes.

This movie is very centred on Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, and as such it is pretty much the key talking point here. Lou, on paper, is a very neurotic, career-driven and sociopathic person. His dialogue is blunt and very direct, almost to the point of being non-human. Given how much of this character takes up the running time, along with how he’s written, the director seriously needed to pair the character with a capable actor. Gyllenhaal, in 2013’s Prisoners, showed that he was more than capable of playing a character that is perpetually toeing the line between calm and break-everything-and-everyone-in-sight, something that he readily puts to use in this film. Gyllenhaal as Lou is cold, calculating, adorkable, funny, sharp, sinister and creepy, sometimes all at the same time. It is an impressive feat of acting to be able to pull the character the way he does here. Think if Jeff Goldblum played Patrick Bateman and you’re in the ballpark of how this character comes across: Awkward and terrifying all at once.

A lot of his dialogue involves him negotiating with people for various reasons, as if he was selling real estate every second of every day of his life and he was damn good at doing it. His dialogue, in lesser hands, could’ve come across disastrously but, despite his directness, the character is repeatedly able to convince people to take his offers, no matter how insane they may be, and you easily believe it because of Gyllenhaal’s delivery. Not only that, he is downright scary in the majority of this film too. Because of how unpredictable Lou comes across as, you’re gripping at the armrests of your seat because you have no idea what he’s going to do next; even better, the writing is done in such a way that they manage to look at the most obvious option Lou has in some scenes and then go several steps further, making for a genuinely intense character to watch.

How are the rest of the cast? Well, that’s the other thing: The cast list here is relatively small. In terms of recognisable actors, we have Rene Russo as the news director for a TV station and Bill Paxton as Joe, Lou’s inspiration and later rival, both of whom do very well in their roles. Other than that, aside from rapper Riz Ahmed as Lou’s assistant Rick, there isn’t anyone of note. Then again, given the powerhouse performance from our lead, you could have had anyone in the supporting cast and they would still be overshadowed.

After watching Gone Girl not that long ago, I honestly thought I would have had my fill of movies that involve manipulation of the mass media, but here comes Nightcrawler to give us some more from a different angle: Manipulation of the news as product, to be processed, packaged and delivered to the masses. This film does a great job at showing the disconnect between the reality as seen through the TV and the reality as seen through our own eyes, not to mention some nice subtle commentary on the difficult economic times and what it can drive some people to do out of desperation for a living. The best possible example of the disconnect at work is in how it portrays the more violent crime scenes on film: Aside from one or two moments, it's never directly through the real-life camera; it’s either through the viewfinder of an in-universe camera or being played back as already-recorded footage.

That, on its own, would be enough to praise this movie for, but through some key scenes at the news station, we get even more helpings of this with real-time manipulation of the news anchors by Rene Russo’s character into building up the story being shown in Lou’s footage. Going back to what I was saying about directorial debuts and what they might hold, going by this movie alone, I really hope that Dan Gilroy sticks it out in the director’s chair and brings us even more films of this high standard.

All in all, this is an extremely tense and nail-biting thriller, mostly driven by Jake Gyllenhaal’s jaw-dropping performance in the lead role; this is something that is right up there as one of his best to date, if not the best.

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