Dan Gilroy is more commonly known and immensely well regarded as a writer having written the screenplay for 1992's "Freejack" through to "The Bourne Legacy" 20 years later. This last Bourne franchise film was directed by his brother Tony Gilroy and here with Nightcrawler, he now follows in his sibling's footsteps with his first directorial film.
But to the film itself. Set in Los Angeles which from the film's opening shot of a brightly lit skyline and an ominous full moon overhead we follow "Louis Bloom" (Jake Gyllenhaal) a low level petty thief desperate for work who chances upon a team of "nightcrawlers" or renegade, freelance camera journalists who follow the voluminous amount of crime within the city headed by "Joe Loder" (Bill Paxton). With varying teams ostensibly chasing the same crime(s) the competition in this underground culture is fierce, active and highly immediate with large bounties on offer to the crew's who produce not only the best coverage of an accident, altercation or bloody shooting but who can provide this to the rivalling news networks within the city at a moment's notice. Whilst this is the obvious back story to the film itself, what is immediately apparent is that Bloom is intoxicated into this world, watching, learning and taking everything in as he makes his tentative steps from rogue thief into being a nightcrawler himself. But what is also immediately apparent is first time Director Gilroy's use of extreme close ups on Bloom and especially his eyes as it certainly gives us a window into his tainted soul but it also conveys his every expression, desire and need to be in this world and his determination to do any and everything to rise within it. Put simply, Jake Gyllenhaal adds to his masterful and electric performances in Donnie Darko, Zodiac, Source Code and End of Watch to produce a wonderful portrayal here of a man on the edge and a man who sees a niche in a murky market that he can exploit to his selfish benefit and although plot spoilers will not allow for any further explanation, it's a brilliant performance right on the edge of psychopathy and madness. He leads a single and very solitary life with little education to speak of however he's loquacious and eloquent and in the cut throat business of being a nightcrawler he can see a weakness that he can exploit fully, and Gyllenhaal's performance is absolutely stunning and captured perfectly by Director Gilroy. Just watch his eyes! It's a sublime performance.
Finding "news" to sell in such a violent city is an easy business and soon Bloom makes an alliance with a kindred spirit of sorts in KWLA News Director "Nina Romina" (Rene Russo). Nina clearly admires Bloom's chutzpah for securing news footage and perhaps even reminds her of her younger and more adventurous self. With tongue only half in cheek she exclaims that the news required on her Station is "think of a woman running down the street with her throat cut" and this clearly resonates with the go getting Bloom, who over time also exploits their flirtatious relationship to his own ends. Their joint scenes are naturally crucial to the film's narrative and alongside Gyllenhaal's powerhouse performance is that of a bubbling and fiery stand out performance from Russo. Together with several real life News Anchors reprising their TV roles in the film there are also crucial cameo and supporting roles from Kevin Rahm as "Frank Kruse", Ann Cusack as "Linda", Michael Hyatt as the probing "Detective Fronteiri" however a further stand out performance comes from Riz Ahmed as "Rick". In many ways Rick is a mirror to his eventual Boss in Bloom, or at least initially. Desperate for work and down on his luck, his nervousness is immediately apparent but equally so is his desire for employment and willingness to try anything, even at the hands of the ever increasingly psychotic Bloom.
My initial question was is the film as good as the trailer would have you believe and the answer was almost. From an exposition heavy first Act, the second Act is breathless at times and leads brilliantly to a denouement that ultimately falls a little flat and which perhaps sets up a more thorough sequel. The ending felt a little rushed but this a minor criticism in an overall rewarding film with two central performances that were a joy to behold. It's certainly a worthy achievement from first time Director Gilroy as he blends shaky camera shots that put the audience in the middle of the madness of tracking and finding that all important and highly lucrative immediate news story. The aforementioned close ups of Gyllenhaal are a marvel and a definite window into his psyche of twisted thoughts and of a man living on his wits and not above manipulating a news story that presents itself. Nightcrawlers also shines a light into the murky world of news hounds chasing that elusive and indeed exclusive, story and the arguments to be made between moral and ethical reporting and of journalistic integrity. But overall it's a fine debut achievement from Dan Gilroy and much more is expected from him in the coming future.