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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Nightcrawler movie review: how news gets broken

Nightcrawler green light

Noirish 1950s cynicism meets nasty 1970s Corman-esque exploitation in a thriller that is uncomfortable, unpleasant, unforgiving, and pretty darn brilliant.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Jake Gyllenhaal

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s like noirish 1950s cynicism meets nasty 1970s Corman-esque exploitation: Nightcrawler, the directorial debut from screenwriter Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy), is uncomfortable, unpleasant, unforgiving, and pretty darn brilliant. Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom is a gaunt specter haunting scenes of real-life horror — car accidents; home invasions — in Los Angeles, ready with his camera to shoot whatever gory footage he can capture to sell to the highest bidder among the local news stations; if it bleeds, it leads, and that means ratings bonanza, so the gorier and more fear-mongering the better.

For Louis, previously a semiprofessional vandal selling stolen copper wiring and manhole covers to scrap-metal merchants, the transition from thief to “nightcrawler” is hardly a transition at all for a job that, it would seem, requires no training, no knowledge, no experience, and — most vitally — no ethics. Gyllenhaal’s (Enemy) profoundly creepy performance, his most accomplished yet by far, imagines Louis as a weirdly stilted approximation of a man, as if he weren’t human but is merely aping human behavior he has studied, mostly, it would seem, from business and entrepreneurial self-help seminars… and if you never thought that stuff bordered on sinister sociopathy before, Louis is here to convince you of it. (Who Moved My Corpse? anyone?)

But lest we be misled into believing that a serial-killer vibe is a requirement of the job, Bill Paxton’s (Edge of Tomorrow) somewhat more human nightcrawler (he tries to bring Louis onto his team) and Rene Russo’s (Thor: The Dark World) TV station news director (she ends up being his primary client) will disabuse us of that notion. The scariest thing about this tale of modern mainstream journalism as a horror story, as a cultural nightmare, is that even the supposedly “normal” are complicit in it… including us, for responding to it. That’s the collective we, of course. I don’t watch it, and maybe you don’t, but a helluva lot of someones certainly do.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Nightcrawler for its representation of girls and women.


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Nightcrawler (2014)
US/Can release: Oct 31 2014
UK/Ire release: Oct 31 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated NJF (No Jobs! Freelance!)
MPAA: rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language
BBFC: rated 15 (strong bloody crime scene detail, strong language)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • LaSargenta

    (Loverman saw this over the weekend. Gave it a thumbs-up. He loves suspensful movies.) It looks interesting, but I’m not sure I’d want to spend two hours in this character’s company. Gyllenhal is talented…it might be too much talent in this persona for me. >-<

  • This won’t be for everyone.

  • LaSargenta

    Yeah. I’ll have to give this some thought. When I watched the trailer, it made me remember waking with a blazing headache from a dream where I was convinced I had a tooth that had suddenly gone rotten and spongy all the way to the tip of the root. I stuck my fingers into my mouth to convince myself that hadn’t happened. Some art is really vivid.

  • Kevin Thomsen

    J Gyllenhaal, why are you so perfect? October Sky, Enemy, Donnie Darko, Prisoners, and now this.
    ~doki doki, G-hall

  • Loomis Pants

    I loved it but it seemed to have a huge hole in it: what exactly happens between him and Ms. Russo? I can’t imagine it and why should I have to try?

  • So you need to actually see him dominating her in the bedroom for that aspect of the story to work? Their dynamic in the workplace isn’t enough?

  • thomskis

    I feel that the fact that nothing was shown was actually quite masterful. We didn’t need to see it. Also, in all seriousness I feel that your positive review of this movie is one-in-the-eye for the knee-jerk feminism accusers. Russo’s character was almost as flawed as Lou’ Bloom, and empowered in her own way. Her post-coital sigh after viewing the climactic footage was a great touch.

  • I don’t see much that’s anti-feminist or anti-woman in this movie. Russo’s character is certainly flawed, and complicated, and definitely not very nice or noble… and that’s a *good* thing for the representation of women. Feminism isn’t about holding up women as perfect paragons… it’s exactly the opposite. I’m totally mystified by people who think feminism is about promoting women as perfect and unflawed. (I don’t think you’re suggesting this, but I think you’re right in thinking that some people might see something anti-woman in this movie.)

  • Thera Pitts

    I discovered this movie far to late, but I thought I’d chime in anyway. I’m annoyed that none of the critics were saying anything about Riz Ahmed’s performance as Bloom’s morally conflicted protege. He brought such a sad, quiet sense of desperation to what could have been a puddle deep LA slacker archetype. Easily the most realistic performance in the movie. And he’s pretty adorable to boot.

  • It’s not always possible to mention every aspect of a film in a review, and I especially try to avoid writing a checklist.

    Ahmed *is* fabulous here, as you note. And we have female-gazed at him.

  • Thera Pitts

    Yeah, it is better that a review read well. But still good to know you agree!

  • LaSargenta

    OK, saw it! Well worth seeing, too. I’m glad I was watching it on Netflix, tho’, ’cause I could take my eyes from the screen and look around my apartment and distance myself from this fucked up world this sleeze lived in. It is rare I say something like that.

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