I enjoyed my third visit to the Cineplex Odeon Devonshire Mall cinema (pictured at left) last night to catch new release Nightcrawler. Having caught star Jake Gyllenhaal’s previous release Enemy there last March, my return was a deliberate choice and a fortunate coincidence that the film’s release coincided with the start of the Windsor Film Festival which had drawn me across the border.
While this cinema is obviously a chain, I appreciate their large wraparound screens, display of the film’s poster outside the auditorium it is showing in, and a seemingly more informal approach to pre-show entertainment than their increasingly commercialized United States equivalents. This particular cinema occasionally shows independent films in addition to standard Hollywood fare, and so I have continued to review their listings on a weekly basis. Thanks to geography, it’s also the closest megaplex to my apartment, even though it is in another country!
Of course Nightcrawler is a cinematic voyage (back, for me) to Los Angeles, which feels worlds away in Detroit’s rapidly approaching winter climate and with the intense yet rooted in brutal reality storyline of the film. We’re quickly introduced to Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a fast – talking loner who wanders the streets of LA in a beat – up old Toyota, looking for opportunity and removed from the mainstream of society.
One night while driving home on a freeway, he sees an accident with victim and a film crew quickly appearing to document the event. You can see the lightbulbs coming on in Lou’s sunken, distant eyes as he decides that he wants to try that profession of “night crawling”, monitoring the LAPD radios for the most immediate drastic event, and then documenting it for sale to the highest bidder.
After hitting the ground running with filming and questionable tactics, Lou’s search for a buyer leads him to downmarket TV station KWLA and its overnight news director, Nina, played by Rene Russo. Nina treats their interactions cordially and tells Lou that he has potential, which, for Lou, means that he should develop a deeper relationship with the station and Nina herself. The story continues as Lou takes on an “intern”, played by Riz Ahmed, and plunges deeper into the murky underworld of Los Angeles urban violence. Throughout his efforts, Lou coldly focuses on building the business of his enterprise, and resorts to increasingly extreme measures to get the footage that will get the most results.
The film is clearly Gyllenhaal’s star show, and he hits the mark with a creepy, unsettling performance. Not only does he boast a physical transformation, appearing nearly gaunt for the part, but he also afflicts a vocal transformation, with a high yet neutral and somewhat irritating pitch to his lines. One has to wonder how many people like the character may exist in our current social media and information obsessed age, where everyone jockeys for position in a constantly shifting and occasionally unsettling game of looking for attention, ratings and results.
Russo makes a refreshing return to the screen in the taut role of the veteran news producer. Her part is initially treated more anonymously than one might expect – as fits the setting, perhaps – but is later allowed to expand as Lou pulls her into his web. She also delivers some of the film’s most biting commentary on the power of news, how stories are constructed for their audience, and how the media manipulates its own audience to also get those results. It would be great if the Academy Awards voters consider Russo in their Best Supporting Actress deliberations.
Nightcrawler is constructed coldly yet beautifully for the audience, with sleek cinematography by Robert Elswit and several fitting themes composed by James Newton Howard. Writer and director Dan Gilroy, making a later career debut behind the camera, shines a light on an unsettling angle of contemporary culture. His script veers into exposition at times and inevitably falls pray to a series of “how can this get worse” or “what’s going to happen next” questions that lead into a “how is this going to end” deliberation. But the topicality of the subject matter ensures that the viewers might continue to think about their own role in taking in current media, and the pros and cons of continued life engulfed in the digital age.
Monday edit: go here for another — and compelling — take on the film.