It’s a gospel truth of film criticism that you never put the word ‘I’ in your review. You should never insert yourself into the piece, because it’s not about ‘you’ but rather the film’s pros and cons from an objective vantage point. Well, I’m about to break that rule for the first time in my 10-years as a professional writer. And it’s all Jake Gyllenhaal’s fault. Bastard.
Donnie Darko done grown up in his latest film, Nightcrawler, which is understandably garnering all kinds of awards season buzz. Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an ambitious twenty-something who is determined to be successful at something, anything. He graduates from petty theft to the world of freelance videography. To be more specific: he begins working as a night cameraman, filming grisly car accidents and crime on the graveyard shift while supplying the footage to a local news station.
Throw in his competition, played by Bill Paxton, and the ferocious night editor Nina (Rene Russo) and Lou’s small business begins to grow… mainly in notoriety. He’s getting the best footage, the best angles, and he’s getting there first but through slippery means that include moving dead bodies for that ‘perfect’ angle and even setting up the odd crime. As the scales quickly escalate, Lou moves from observer to perpetrator with anyone standing in the way of his American Dream on the hit list.
Nightcrawler is American Psycho for a new generation. Lou is a psychopath. He’s not an okay kinda guy who is just corrupted by ambition and greed. Like Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman, he is a bonafide psychopath. The mental disorder is defined by people who have no empathy or remorse, who are known to have outbursts of violent behaviour and – in some cases – can be particularly charismatic. This is Lou, straight up. Towards the conclusion of the film he even chillingly tells his colleague that he doesn’t like people, doesn’t understand them, never has. To this effect Gyllenhaal’s performance is as good as Bale’s, which has gone on to become iconic. He’s beyond worthy of the Oscar nomination he’s guaranteed to get (and likely win) with this terrifying portrayal, complete with a body transformation Academy Award voters love oh-so-much.
Yet the thing that shines about Nightcrawler is the authenticity. Here comes the personal insertion… I grew up doing what Gyllenhaal’s character does in the film. Not the camera work, but the ambulance chasing. I started out my career as a journalist working the crime beat, which resulted in spending nights tuned into the police scanners and racing out to crash or crime scenes in the wee hours of the morning. I saw my first dead body at the age of 17 smeared across the side of a road and within two years the shit I saw could fill the pages of a Matthew Reilly novel: drownings, plane crashes, shark attacks, double homicides, bikie shoot outs, the works. So to say Nightcrawler is authentic is paying it a true compliment. The directorial debut from Hollywood screenwriter Dan Gilroy captures the fear and the frenzy of this very unique trade in a way that made it feel like a documentary – it was that real. The isolation and the crossing of personal boundaries for a job no one really understands or cares about is just as prevalent and perfectly depicted by a filmmaker who has cemented himself as one to watch. Closely.
Part American Psycho, part Drive, Nightcrawler is a horror movie in every sense of the word. Grounded by it’s gritty realism and a career defining performance from Gyllenhaal, it’s one of the scariest films you’ll see this year: and one of the realest.
Maria Lewis – follow Maria on Twitter here: @moviemazz or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.