Okay, I swear this is the last time I’ll write a Redbox Review about a film that isn’t currently available for you beautiful readers to rent for another month or two. To be fair, you would do the same thing if your best rental prospect was Tusk, which boasts a 1-star write-up from every top review on IMDb and is about Justin Long transforming into a walrus. Nightcrawler is also available on DVD starting today; you’ll just have to go to a real video store and not a rental kiosk in a McDonalds.
First off, Nightcrawler is not a X-Men spinoff. The film stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom, a man looking for work who is prone to spouting quasi-motivational jargon from online business classes in normal conversation. He stumbles upon Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), who makes his living as a nightcrawler, freelance videographers who film gory footage of crimes and car crashes and sell it to local television stations. Louis buys equipment immediately and is off to work, selling footage to Nina (Rene Russo), news director of the lowest-rated station in Los Angeles. But Louis’ disregard of morals and decent human empathy leads to trouble for him and everyone he associates with.
Here at Colorado State University, I am a journalism student. I love certain parts of the craft and deplore other parts, including the sensationalist, “if-it-bleeds-it-leads” culture of most local television news. So when I learned Nightcrawler was a scathing attack and a satire of that aspect of journalism, rookie director Dan Gilroy already had me in his back pocket.
It mostly works, but with that being said, the script does have its problems. Gilroy’s characters skirt the line between human and caricature, and some of the acts on display start to feel unbelievable and overblown. It is a satire and that’s probably the point, but the film would potentially be more effective if it was toned down a tad. Also, its two-hour running time is a little lengthy and it starts to drag pretty badly in the middle.
Outside of those complaints, though, Nightcrawler is a quite effective thriller that manages to be disturbing and enjoyable all at the same time. A lot of credit for how good the film is should go to Gyllenhaal, who is absolutely enthralling. He dropped 30 pounds for the role; he’s noticeably more gaunt and his unblinking eyes seem to bulge right off of his face, which makes for some great Louis Bloom monologues. I’m rather disappointed his performance didn’t lead to an Oscar nod for Best Actor.
Bloom also makes a memorable character. He starts the film seeming a bit “off,” but throughout the course of two hours, he becomes a full-blown sociopath, one that you can’t take your eyes off of. The more you get to know him, the less you like him, but that doesn’t stop the climax of the film from reaching near-perfection.
Overall, while I agree with the Academy’s decision to leave the film off the Best Picture shortlist, Nightcrawler is a great watch. It’s got a pretty original plotline, a tour-de-force performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, and beautiful neo-noir cinematography. And maybe it will leave you thinking about how exactly they got that footage next time you watch your local news.
Zach Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on his Twitter page, @zachandforth.