A Review of Nightcrawler (2014)
There's a term I heard on the TV show Hannibal, which is “the stitching of that person suit you wear.” That's Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom. He is a monster barely contained by the suit of skin he wars. It is an incredible performance that bleeds out onto is a film that lives and breathes with its titular character.
Lou Bloom cut from the same cloth as the kind of characters that shambled and limped through Raymond Chandler's vision of LA. He's a low rent hustler, with no virtues save ambition. That's what makes him so frightening, so terrifyingly realistic. He's a man born of disappointment and an indifferent world, and of a society that feeds off of pettiness and fear. He seems like a man capable of anything.That is what Nightcrawler is about. This tension is why the whole thing works.
Nightcrawler is the kind of movie I will see just based on its concept alone. It's about a scumbag, it focuses on a bizarre and dicey vocation, and it takes place almost entirely in Los Angeles at night. That is my kind of movie
So much of Nightcrawler reminds me of the diner scenes out of Taxi Driver. While it is a crime movie, it is more about the characters than it is about what they do (in the back of my mind The Friends of Eddie Coyle, another classic 70's crime film, also jumps to mind). There's a certain loneliness built into both pictures. They are about the men on the periphery. Not only in the periphery of the criminal world, but of the entire world. You can see it in Lou's bed, which seems like an object that is barely willing to accommodate his presence. It also helps that Gyllenhaal plays Lou like the Bickle brother who went out west.
Nightcrawler is more than just an homage or a throwback. Like all good movies, it is smarter than the genre that contains it. While 1970's grit looms in the background and the chain smoke of pre-Code crime films wafts into every frame, it exists as an original, modern film. It's a smart film that doesn't need to show you how clever it is. It's a movie that comes out of a long line of other films (including movies as disparate as Network and Broadcast News, or even Ace in the Hole), yet it has something to say about the seediness of modern news and the depravity of modern society. But, like its heritage, it doesn't wear its themes on its sleeves. It's a thriller first and foremost and like Lou Bloom, there's something hiding beneath the surface.
With all of that said, the score is one of the more lacking scores things I have heard in a good, long while (as I write this, the soundtrack of The Proposition kicked off and does not make me feel any kinder towards Nightcrawler's score).
It feels like a graduate of a Explosions in the Sky School For Ambient What-Have-You Nonsense (and even then it only graduated because its dad donated a new kinesiology center). Besides being sonically underwhelming, it doesn't feel right for the film. Maybe I'm saying this because Drive, the last interesting LA-at-night movie to come out is looming in the background, but I feel like I'm also saying this because the score simply doesn't work. When you're trying to strike a mood, playing the most generic music that you can is not a great start. Say what you will about Drive, it is a movie that strikes a mood. Nightcrawler would have benefited from a much slimier score than what it ended up with.
I feel the way about the year in which this movie is set. It's supposed to take place in the modern era, but there's just something that doesn't quite connect with me. I don't buy it, which makes me think that it was written as a period piece and brought up to the present to make it more commercial. That's purely speculation, but I do know in my bones that this movie would have somehow been better had it been set in the 1980's or early to mid 90's. Why? Because.I mean, do you believe that there are crews of freelance newsmen roaming the Southland in this year of our Lord Two-Thousand-Fourteen? Of course you don't.
It would have also allowed for the period appropriate synth soundtrack that I want to bad.
Another quibble is that they very clearly shot the same three streets over and over again. That Del Taco must have been on screen at least half a dozen times. Same with the faux-Tudor bank and the Chase building. You don't think I see you, Chase building? I do!
But that's a consequence of what the film is, it's hardly an artistic choice, it's just a result of the film's very meager budget. But part of that is endearing. It kind of shows that the film is closer in its bloodline to film noir in more than its subject matter.
It's fun, it's scrappy, and it tells a kind of story with a kind of character that I don't know if I've ever seen before. It's also an engaging movie that still manages to say a lot about people, the news, and just how messed up this country is. Nightcrawler is something well worth hunting down and checking out, even if you're as late to the scene as I am.
James Kislingbury is Los Angeles deritus. He writes, podcasts, and generally schemes. Support his endeavors.