The 87th Academy Awards were perhaps the most competitive in recent years with The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, Birdman, American Sniper, Foxcatcher, Selma, Interstellar, Whiplash, Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel all vying for success. Whilst the depth of competition offers an explanation for the greatest Oscar snub in my lifetime, it certainly does not explain it. When the nominees for Best Actor were announced I could not believe my ears. Jake Gyllenhaal’s extraordinary turn as Lou Bloom went unrecognised, as Nightcrawler failed not only to win an Oscar but also a BAFTA, Golden Globe or Critic’s Choice Award. This is a film that critics got wrong, not because they didn’t say it was good, but because they didn’t acknowledge its greatness.
“high time Nightcrawler is given the credit it deserves”
“On TV, it looks so real” observes Gyllenhaal’s character whilst looking at the backdrop for the news, succinctly capturing the idea at the core of Nightcrawler. Unable to secure a conventional job, Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) turns his hand to filming newsworthy incidents and selling them to a TV station. Bloom finds he has a genuine talent and as the tone of the film darkens, becomes obsessed with capturing the perfect story on camera. Captivating and utterly compelling, Gyllenhaal’s performance fuses elements of traditional protagonists and antagonists to create a character whom we initially root for, but ultimately sickens us with his actions.
As the film progresses, Bloom goes from cameraman to director – in one scene moving a dead body to get a better shot – and by the final scene he has made all of Los Angeles his set. A modern critique of the American Dream, Nightcrawler doesn’t simply advance the conventional hypothesis of its unattainability but rather shows the depth of depravity a person must descend to in order to achieve it. With his unconventional appearance and interpersonal skills, Bloom is an unforgettable villain for the ages – giving us a terrifying tale void of morality. That this borderline psychopath achieves his aims and becomes an increasingly respected figure in televisual broadcasting is the scariest thing of all.
“Bloom is an unforgettable villain for the ages – giving us a terrifying tale void of morality”
Nightcrawler isn’t just the Jake Gyllenhaal show, Renee Russo and Riz Ahmed impress in stellar supporting roles and James Newton Howard provides an epic score. Howard intended for the score to reflect what was going on Bloom’s head (playing euphoric music when he moves the dead body to reflect his excitement at the shot), a highly innovative approach that deepens the connection between the audience and our main character. Similarly, Rick (Ahmed) – Bloom’s poorly paid assistant – functions as an everyman, whose initial naivety turns to horror and disbelief as his employer’s true motives are revealed. The Four Lions star shows his range with a highly believable performance as an ineffective voice of reason who is unable to escape from Bloom’s all-consuming influence. Rene Russo shines as Nina, the news’ director on the ‘graveyard shift’ at a failing TV station who forms an unholy alliance with Lou Bloom. As unscrupulous and morally devoid as her supplier, Nina is committed to presenting the sort of America she thinks her viewers wish to see – one where ethnic minorities commit crimes against white people in increasingly suburban areas. In a timely critique of modern journalism, she consistently manipulates and sensationalises the news by prioritising viewing figures over honest reporting. This dark but familiar theme makes the film arguably more relevant today than it was three years ago, with the rise of ‘fake news’ forcing us to question what goes on behind the scenes. Nightcrawler’s answers are a damning indictment of not only news reporting but of society in general.
Nightcrawler is a sensational looking film with the streets of Los Angeles looking even better than in 2011’s Drive. With the plot and performances to match this aesthetic first time director Dan Gilroy has crafted a true work of genius combining surface thrills with a deeply important message. With Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom combining aspects of Heath Ledger’s Joker and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter to create a villain on-par with both, Nightcrawler is essential viewing. In the words of the film’s strapline – ‘The closer you look, the darker it gets’ – and it’s damn near impossible to look away.