Review: Nightcrawler

Last Updated on August 2, 2021

This review originally ran as part of our TIFF 2014 coverage.

PLOT: A young man (Jake Gyllenhaal) who ekes out a living as a petty thief, stumbles upon the cutthroat, dangerous, lucrative world of crime-scene videography for the evening news.

REVIEW: Having already seen a half-dozen movies at this year’s edition of the Toronto International Film Festival, I can say without a doubt that NIGHTCRAWLER is the first truly great film I’ve seen from this year’s programming. It’s still very early, but I was absolutely floored by this darkly humorous, violent, chilling look at a sordid world many of us are utterly naive to.

Watching the evening news, have you ever wondered who goes in and shoots the aftermath of accidents and violent crime you see repeated over-and-over again? In NIGHTCRAWLER, you get up close and personal with a truly terrifying example of this breed, Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Lou Bloom. Gyllenhaal’s always been a great actor (which he proved twice at last year’s TIFF alone with PRISONERS and ENEMY). Leo Bloom is like his Travis Bickle, with him doing an unsettling job portraying the sociopathic Bloom, who we first catch ripping off copper-wiring and manhole covers to be resold for pennies to a construction company. When caught in the act he brutally assaults a guard, and he gets much, much worse as the film goes on.

Gyllenhaal’s physical transformation is striking. While he apparently only lost twenty pounds or so, with his prominent cheekbones and huge eyes, he looks a lot different than the matinee idol audiences were drooling over at the post-film Q&A. This is a game-changer for his career, and if he doesn’t get an Oscar nomination for this than something is seriously wrong with the Academy, as this is the performance of the year so far.

Make no mistake, he’s playing a truly bad guy here. A lot has been made of its neo-noir take, with DP Robert Elswitt’s neon-lit shooting of the Los Angeles suburbs by night casting a dark lens on what we assume are the quieter parts of the city. But, in classic noir, the hero is often an unwitting pawn. Gyllenhaal’s Bloom happily goes down the rabbit hole, sneaking into crime scenes to shoot the victims, even moving corpses and at his worst interfering with investigations to spur even more violence he can exploit. He’s an evil man, but a fascinating one.

Coming from writer-director Dan Gilroy, NIGHTCRAWLER’s depiction of Bloom is never simple, furthering the TAXI DRIVER comparisons. We get inside his head, and that’s a nasty place to be. However, special contempt is saved for Rene Russo‘s news director at the station where Gyllenhaal sells his work. She laps up his brutal clips telling him to think of their program as “a woman running down the street screaming with her throat cut.” Russo is tremendous in her first really juicy role in a while (with a possible best supporting actress nod seeming like a distinct possibility). What’s interesting is how the relationship between her and Gyllenhaal develops, as their balance of power starts to shift from one to the other, leading to an amazing scene at a Mexican restaurant that will make jaws drop.

Additionally, Riz Ahmed, as Gyllenhaal’s none-too-bright “intern” and Bill Paxton as his rock n’roll fellow “nightcrawler” are terrific, with both playing well off Gyllenhaal, and getting plenty of juicy scenes to sink their teeth into. It’s amazing to think that this is Gilroy’s directorial debut – although he previously co-wrote his brother Tony Gilroy‘s THE BOURNE LEGACY, REAL STEEL and more. The pace is relentless, and it has lots of hair raising chase scenes including a climatic one that had everyone at the packed premiere applauding at its execution. The score by James Newton Howard is similarly good, with it being kind of Gyllenhaal’s greek chorus throughout. This is really amazing stuff.

In the end, I’d say I was as blown away by NIGHTCRAWLER as I was when I saw GRAVITY, 12 YEARS A SLAVE or PRISONERS at last year’s fest. It’s an incredible piece of work, and so far my pick for not only the best movie of the festival, but maybe the best of the year as well. It’s a tremendous piece of work and it’ll be a tough act to follow for any other TIFF title in the lineup.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.