WHAT I LIKED: Dan Gilroy's 'Nightcrawler,' is a genius high-concept film about a strange, meticulous, unemphatic man called Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) who begins filming bloody crime scenes in LA to sell footage to the media. We see local news broadcaster Nina (Rene Russo) egg him on by paying more for the most extreme and shocking stuff in pursuit of bigger ratings, and that leads him to head for increasingly extreme and risky scenarios.
On the one hand, that offers a fascinating portrayal of the way modern media is all about shock factor over any sensitivity for human life or even the preventative power of early footage. But most of all, it offers a fascinating study of one strange central character who you'll spend much of the run time simply trying to work out.
That's because we're never given much information about his past; we're instead just left to watch as his face lights up and he noses his camera where others would usually shy away, and he subsequently talks his way into the news circuit. Gilroy clings to his face for an uncomfortable length of time and then pans to the horros he's obsessed with filming with in a way that you'd imagine Michael Mann would, and through that we begin to understand him more. Gyllenhaal's masterful performance paints him as someone with obvious issues with empathy and social norms from the start, so he could arguably be seen as vulnerable, but as the film goes on it's also made clear that he believes he's God's gift and that he should be able to get anything he wants despite his obvious wretchedness.
His drive for success at the expense of all else, entitlement, lack of sensitivity, and his constant chasing of the next best high arguably makes Lou the epitome of what many would perceieve to be society's greatest modern ills, and by the end you'll be sure to utterly despise him. But it's the fact you're left so intrigued that makes the experience so compelling.
It helps also of course though that Gilroy directs the atmosphere of each scenario so well too; be it Lou's arrival on the scene of a homicide, his chasing of the next job through the nighttime streets, or his uncomfortable conversations with Nina, he leaves most of the work to the camera and its performances, allowing us to ponder what's happening rather than cutting quickly and shying away from the nuance and detail.
That ultimately makes for a film that fires on all cylinders. It makes some interesting points about society whilst delving into a fascinating personification of its greatest ills in a way that's all the while engaging through its magnetic atmopshere. You can't ask for much more than that, and for what it is, it's practically perfect.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: It does have a very cynical world-view, and can go extremely hard to watch at times.
VERDICT: A film about sensationalist media and a fascinating and disgusting character on its front lines, Dan Gilroy's 'Nightcrawler,' arguably ticks all the boxes a film can tick.