Nightcrawler is an absorbing character study improved vastly by Dan Gilroy’s strong direction and the career best performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. As a gloomy and often frightening feature by Gilroy, Nightcrawler succeeds as an engrossing thriller, a relevant commentary, a hilarious black comedy, and a great story.
Dan Gilroy has always had a presence in the film industry through his screenwriting, having written titles such as The Bourne Legacy and Real Steel. While many up-and-coming directors struggle to construct a debut, Gilroy delivers real strength as a director who expertly builds tension, both on-screen and character-related. The film’s violence could’ve easily been perceived as grotesque or unnecessary, but Gilroy delivers such a gritty format of storytelling that each scene feels necessary. Gilroy also deserves credit for delivering a perfectly crafted ending to the film resolve its literal and metaphorical plots wonderfully. There is also a brilliant mystery and reverence around Jake Gyllenhaal’s character that remains intriguing throughout the film.
As for Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance, he gives a career changing role as a character actor. While Gyllenhaal has given several great performances in the past, including Donnie Darko, Zodiac, Brothers, and Source Code among others, his performance in Nightcrawler exceeds his other work as a truly disturbed character of a villainous nature. The nuanced nature of the dark character is interesting, as his behavior is frightening and disturbing to the viewers, but also strangely comic in the patterns and dialogue that the character repeats. It’s impressive that an actor could deliver this intricate dialogue in a way that feels genuine, as well as giving such comedy in such a dark film. The gradual descent and development of the character is the film’s greatest strength, all due to Gyllenhaal’s Academy Award worthy role.
The film’s editing is also pristinely done, especially in blending the dark comedy and realistic drama in a pattern that reflects the nature of Gyllenhaal’s character. There’s a great method of setting up sequences throughout the film’s numerous events, which all emphasize tension and utilize its scene structure. James Newton Howard’s eerie musical score initially detracts from the films events, but eventually builds up to great effect, especially during the final scenes. Veteran cinematographer Robert Elswit also does an excellent job combining a variety of shots, which provide striking imagery and show the scope of the film’s environments.
The major flaws in Nightcrawler derive from its length, especially during the second act. Subplots involving Rene Russo and Bill Paxton are interesting, but overstay their welcome in terms of screen time. There’s also several sequences of prolonged night time shots that while beautiful to watch, detract from the film’s pacing and overall story.
Nightcrawler is a fantastically directed film that takes an intriguing concept and utilizes it to develop one of the year’s most enigmatic and interesting characters. It’s certainly odd and make not always work, but it’s certainly a treat for cinemagoers seeking a nail-biting thriller that’s both hilarious and self-conscious. A character-based, genre spanning epic, Nightcrawler is a disturbing exploration of a well-developed character. Grade: -A