Anyone who knows me knows I have spent the summer catching up on what others have long told me are classics, that I need to catch up on with the added time I now possess. I’ve gone through many films for the first time, When Harry Met Sally, Office Space and I’d never had even seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off before this summer. Yet no movie has resonated with me in such an oddly disturbing way other than Nightcrawler. The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, whose character Louis Bloom foray into the dark world of Night-crawling, a community of cameramen who specialise in getting the first footage of horrific events and crimes in order to sell to news stations. The idea of horrific videos being captivating to viewers of the news is sickening and actually oddly relevant to the appeal of this movie. You are disgusted by the actions of our supposed protagonist yet Gyllenhaal’s performance is so absolutely outstanding that you are compelled to give every moment, every frame of this movie your undivided attention. We see the world through Gyllenhaal’s sick eyes, and this dark world of Night-crawling is equal parts intriguing yet terrifying.
This cinematography of the film is filmed with a dark and dingy tone, often the only light being street lamps and the neon glow of the city. This tone and the motif of darkness is an extension of the plot and the way in which Bloom sees the world: as a horrible and dark place, yet the light of the city demonstrating his realisation of the opportunity available within the darkness. In an article with Variety Cinematographer Robert Elswit states he “shot [Nightcrawler] digitally, using Arri Alexa cameras, which excel in capturing details using available light” and this is evident in the beauty of the shots in Nightcrawler. Finding perfection through adversity and problems, whether trivial or major, is something we see throughout movie history. The iconic Usual Suspect’s line up where they cannot stop themselves from laughing occurred because Benicio Del Toro farted. Though this may seem trivial it’s a problem that made that scene what it is. Where Nightcrawler fits into this is the extreme lack of budget and shooting time. With only $8.5 Million and 24 days of shoot time, the film required an extreme amount of rehearsal time, by the main characters, and left very little room for error. Further, the director has stated that the locations used were a direct result of only being able to afford to shoot in the dingiest, darkest areas of the city. This is yet another example of a film that faced extreme adversity, and came out the other side far better for it, as what I believe to be a visual masterpiece.
Gyllenhaal’s performance as Bloom is outstanding, I cannot overstate just how good it is and how integral it is to the enjoyment of this movie. He can somehow make believable a man who is freakishly polite and agreeable one scene, whilst perfectly capturing the manic outburst of a mad man the next. Nightcrawler is the best performance of his career without a doubt and it as an absolute travesty he didn’t an Oscar nomination for it. He is able to not only creep out the characters around him, but the audience themselves are made to feel thoroughly uncomfortable simply by his gaze. A major aspect of this is Gyllenhaal’s terrifying ability to emote through his facial features, most notably his eyes. I’m not talking one specific look, he showed an outstanding range of different emotions through his eyes all the while maintaining this incredible physical intensity which is a core part of what makes Bloom so haunting.
Though Gyllenhaal’s performance is incredible, no movie can become a modern classic in the way Nightcrawler has purely on the back of one actor. A testament to this is the one Oscar the film was nominated for, which was Best Original Screenplay. I often believe that directing and writing the script can infinitely aid a movie, and Gilroy’s decision to do this for Nightcrawler results in a tightly written and fascinating script, brought to life with a clear vision and direction. The script is just as important to Gyllenhaal’s hyena-like character as his performance, even seemingly off-hand remarks becoming vital later on and contributing to his vulture like sociopathic performance. In addition, the supporting characters play off Gyllenhaal fantastically and round out the movie, Riz Ahmed and the late great Bill Paxton both put in brilliant performances which do what all great supporting characters do; they contrast and further the directors creative vision of the main character, whilst maintaining their own arcs and fascinating stories.
Whilst I am staying spoiler free, it would be remiss of me to totally exclude the ending from my discussion of Nightcrawler. The climax of the story is one I should’ve seen coming from a mile off, but simply don’t and it is shocking and leaves a lasting effect. For several days afterwards I found myself thinking about the ending and that is as clear an indicator as any that the finale is effective and astounding. Many question whether Nightcrawler deserves the overflowing adulation that it has received since its release. To those, I would simply ask them to point to a more effectively haunting physical performance by any lead, to a stronger performance by a supporting cast and to a more exquisite use of darkness and light through its Cinematography. For these reasons, I believe that this positions Nightcrawler exactly as it was always billed to me, a modern classic.
Written by: Michael Slavin – @MichaelSlavin98 on Twitter