“Seatbelt, seatbelt, seatbelt”.
A thrilling film and a bracing character study, with plenty o’ fun for the casual viewer and dark, awkward moments for the cinephiles.
The film follows an odd Jake Gyllenhaal making his way in the world, who suddenly decides on a new career path after seeing Bill Paxton work (we’ve all been there). Making it up as he goes along, Louis Bloom starts filming and selling footage of crime and accidents to a trashy newscast that’s described as “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”. His version of nightcrawling gets creepier as he continues to cross the line, and his hijinx become more and more gripping. Riz Ahmed plays his tame sidekick Rick (who took three buses to get here), whose personality couldn’t be further from Lou’s and the two make a wonderfully unique pairing. Rene Russo works at the news station and her “in charge” persona crashes up against Lou’s beautifully.
On top of the speeding cars and the crime scenes, the conversations are fascinating. Flirtations turn unexpectedly dark, a brutal negotiation monologue refers cleverly to scenes we haven’t been privy to and watching Rene feed lines to the presenters mid-broadcast is enthralling. I’m not sure that ANY of what we see is close to the real-life profession, but I came out of the film wanting to take up nightcrawling myself (like I’d have the stomach for it).
Lou Bloom could be my favourite character of the year. His conversation is made up of stuff he’s read online, motivational quotes and instructional snippets, like a twisted version of Rob Lowe’s Park & Rec character. He’s magnetic, oddly chipper and seems amazed at everything, yet there’s something about that scary grin and the way he guffaws at an old Danny Kaye comedy; you would never want to get caught in his orbit. “I feel like grabbing you by the ears right now and screaming in your face NOT INTERESTED. Instead, I’m going to go home and do some accounting”. He’s like a wild, untamed character from Mean Streets or Cuckoo’s Nest or something, which is all fed by details like his jacket, his unglamourous Toyota and his overdue haircut with its messy little ponytail. Even the glimpse we get of him fighting seems more of a flail; so wonderfully un-Hollywood. Jake Gyllenhaal looks great in the role, too; he lost enough weight to make his eyes bulge from his gaunt face, helping the character appear even more unhinged and unstable.
I never dreamt a Bill Paxton / Rene Russo film would be so high on my 2014 list, or that Jake Gyllenhaal would be up for my favourite performance of the year. What a scary, exciting and thrilling film.
Rating: R16 Violence, offensive language & content that may disturb.