“Nightcrawler” exposes, with both pitch black humor and biting realism (as if based on a tattling roman à clef), the cutthroat world of local TV news and the cameramen who capture the gritty, the graphic, and the gory – the very imagery the public clamors to see. Rather than accusing the audience of participating in the sensationalism and spectacle of catastrophe as witnessed in Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” director Dan Gilroy’s film parallels Remy Belvaux’s “Man Bites Dog,” Billy Wilder’s “Ace in the Hole,” and even Alexander Mackendrick’s “Sweet Smell of Success” by painting a bleak but satirical portrait of modern media and the conscienceless souls behind the scenes who feed off tragedy and each other as they climb the ladder of success. While the escalating intensity from an unpredictable and savage industry carries intrigue, it’s actor Jake Gyllenhaal’s idiosyncratic creation that propels the movie. Equal parts ambitious, charismatic, and sociopathic, his engaging persona does whatever it takes to get ahead in his newfound profession. And thanks to Gyllenhaal’s quirky and unhinged performance, it’s a volatile ride worth taking.
Cold and calculating, but enthusiastic and driven, petty thief Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles upon the morally skewed craft of “nightcrawling” when he encounters crime videographer Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) at the scene of a car wreck. Determined to enter into the ruthless vocation of shooting mayhem for money, Bloom buys a camcorder and a police scanner and begins patrolling Los Angeles for newsworthy bloodshed. Hiring an assistant (Riz Ahmed) and partnering with local television station producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo) to peddle the misery he films, Bloom obsessively and systematically seeps into the inner workings of an alluringly exploitive machine.
Within a matter of minutes, Gyllenhaal has begotten a sensationally unusual antihero, hungry for progress and purpose like any ambitious individual, yet interpenetrated to an extreme with sociological weirdness. He’s creepily intelligent, unsettlingly persistent, desensitized to violence (and unafraid of dishing it out himself), and entirely comfortable using and abusing the people he interacts with. He’s also likely well aware of his deviance, but nevertheless impelled by a juggernaut of determination, unconcerned with appearances and decency. In one scene, he spells out the frightening logic of his mindset: although it appears as if he doesn’t understand people, he does; rather, his behavior exhibits a potent distaste for humankind in general. Gyllenhaal has a knack for tackling different, transformative roles (his weight loss here mirrors Bloom’s perpetual hunger for advancement), and “Nightcrawler” is easily one of his most striking endeavors.
That atypical, dislikeable, and yet wickedly amusing role is thrust into a neo-film-noir atmosphere, full of murderers, manipulators, dishonest inhabitants, bowelless employees, and grim television news subject matter, all intertwined to the point that they’re essentially synonymous. As a scathing satire, the rarely cinematized morbid stratum of independent photographers is given fresh, unruly, and oftentimes repulsive new life, obscuring the lines of morality, objectivity, and legality. “If it bleeds, it leads,” admits Loder, shedding light on the merciless, monetarily motivated aspects of the media, so permeated by slants, tampers, and alterations that it rarely portrays anything remotely real.
News is purchased; the sadder or ghastlier the better, and those that sell it are routinely indifferent about the victims or the complications brought about by press interference. “Nightcrawler” may go to absurd lengths to get its scary message across (is it a vitriolic viewpoint or just horrifically realistic?), but it remembers to add plenty of humor, a perpetually sporadic tenseness, and an engrossing main character to the mix. This gives it a highly sagacious vibe and winning wickedness – like Hannibal Lecter running the nightly news.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)