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After finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling – where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars and cents. Aided by Nina (Rene Russo), a veteran of the blood sport that is local TV news, Lou blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story in Nightcrawler. (From Universal’s official synopsis)

 Nightcrawler
There is next to nothing in director Dan Gilroy’s resume as a writer to inspire confidence in his first feature as writer and director. His CV is flecked with some of the most banal, pandering mediocrity that Hollywood has ever mustered. Only Geoff Murphy’s Freejack (an amusingly bad mainstream attempt at cyberpunk that paid off, because it led him to meet his wife, Rene Russo) and Tarsem Singh’s The Fall (a visual feast that drips with Singh’s intense visual trademarks and barely requires any narrative input) stand out, but not for reasons that would lead anyone to believe he was capable of something as visceral, eccentric, and engaging as Nightcrawler.

Gilroy’s script is a newish twist on a couple of familiar themes, namely movies about news media types that will do anything for a good scoop. I imagine there has to be another movie about ‘nightcrawlers’ – freelance video photographers that chase ambulances and police cars in hopes of filming something shocking to sell to the evening news – but I can’t think of many that don’t revolve around the media’s ‘paparazzi’ relationship with celebrities. Howard Franklin’s The Public Eye (1992), which casts Joe Pesci as an analogue for famed crime photographer Arthur ‘Weegee’ Fellig (named ‘Leon,’ because they couldn’t get the rights to Weegee’s life story) is the only one that comes to mind. As a photojournalist that garnered fame for his unflinching images of urban crime, Weegee was sort of the prototype for the nightcrawler phenomenon. But most of these movies are concerned with the ethics of tabloid journalism and tend to fall into the same dark satirical category that Sidney Lumet’s Network invented in 1976.

 Nightcrawler
Above all of the media themes, Nightcrawler is an intensive character study that treats the dangers of ‘nightcrawling’ more like a drug than a money-making scheme. Though not entirely devoid of an absurd comedic edge, Gilroy’s film is more concerned with the desensitized people who devote their life to sensationalism, which actually puts it more in line with the moralistic ironies of Ruggero Deodato’s super-controversial Cannibal Holocaust (1980). As Bloom begins to alter crime scenes and break into houses for better, more cinematic shots of real-life mayhem, he starts crossing a more low-key version of the fantastically brutal line the Cannibal Holocaust documentarians cross when they start torturing and raping cannibalistic natives. Obviously, Gilroy isn’t making an exploitation film, but his quotes concerning his intended indictment of local news programs definitely echo Deodato’s when discussing the impetus of Cannibal Holocaust.

The entire film is wrapped around Jake Gyllenhaal’s bizarre and compelling performance, which is at once recognizably enthusiastic and completely enigmatic. His appearance and mannerisms (his bugged-eyes basically don’t blink the entire movie) imply an alien mimicking humanity and his disturbing ability to charm is fueled by the assumption that he really means everything he says – even when he’s lying. He talks in ‘seminar speak’ and gives complete dictionary definitions of the terms he references, which doesn’t only amplify his alien qualities, but also characterizes Bloom as a pitiful representation of the horrible, type-A personalities that run mammoth corporations into the ground. Yet, Gyllenhaal is never maudlin or and rarely histrionic (there’s a single primal ‘freak out’ scene). His descent into outright villainy isn’t a surprise, since he is clearly a sociopath, but does sneak up on the audiences, because he doesn’t do much to change the specifics of his performance – just the intensity/volume.

 Nightcrawler
Nightcrawler has a brisker pace and more traditional structure than its California Neo-Noir brethren, namely Michael Mann’s Heat and David Fincher’s Zodiac, including music-driven montages and typical act-by-act arrangements. These conventional aspects do sometimes hold the film back, because each plot point feels sort of expected. However, Gilroy does avoid turning his film into a pot-boiler murder mystery and, towards the end of the film, begins to imply a nightmare situation where Lou’s sociopathy is contagious and poisoning the people in his circle. I’m also very thankful he didn’t shoot the whole film using first-person, found-footage style.

Video


According to specs, Nightcrawler was shot using Arri Alexa XT digital HD cameras as well as traditional 35mm (shot using the same lenses). This 1080p, 2.40:1 Blu-ray appears to be a solid representation of this mixed-media approach. The formats are split between night and day. At the behest of cinematographer Robert Elswit, daylight sequences are warm and vivid. Hues appear heightened, but not unnatural, and dynamic range is even. The grain and other artefacts look film-like throughout many of these shots. During the prevalent night sequences, Elswit captures some very low-light images without losing vital detail in darkness or heavy grain. At the same time, he and Gilroy tend to accept and even embrace the vulgarity of naturally-lit LA streets, which leads to plenty of grit and electrically-edged colours. Wide angle shots are slathered in the grotesque green and orange of fluorescent street lights mixing with the red glow of store signs. The white of flood lights and camera clashes and burns out highlights, but colours remain quite intense. Interior shots are slightly more problematic and uneven. The more mechanically framed close-ups are tight with strong textures, smooth gradations, and deep blacks. The off-the-cuff shots (mostly stuff shot in the broadcasting booth) are gritty with digital noise and include weak blacks. The inconsistencies in the image quality are likely due to limitations in the footage rather than compression noise.

 Nightcrawler

Audio


Nightcrawler comes fitted with an understated, but very effective DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack. Dialogue and incidental effects are clean and consistent. The stereo and surround channels are most often utilized to establish environmental ambience (basic stuff, like street noise), but are also flecked with the directionally processed sounds of police band radios. On those rare occasions where on-screen action turns bombastic, the bursts of sound (usually gunshots or car engines) carry substantial dramatic weight. The climactic car chase is a cacophony of destruction and buzzing radio voices. James Newton Howard’s score is a surprising electronic mélange that includes electric guitar, keyboards, and acoustic instruments. Some of the cues may sound a bit mawkish at first, but I believe this is an intentionally ironic tonal choice and meant to contrast Bloom’s joy with the immoral truth of his actions. The drum-driven action cues are perfectly intense, not to mention beautifully represented throughout the multi-channel mix (the stereo and LFE support is quite heavy).

 Nightcrawler

Extras


  • Commentary with writer/director Dan Gilroy, producer Tony Gilroy, and editor John Gilroy -– The whole Gilroy gang is here for a funny and informative commentary track. Dan leads the track and discusses stuff like his inspiration (turns out that he had originally planned on make a movie about Weegee, but was beaten to the punch by The Public Eye, so credit to my girlfriend for pointing out the similarities while we were watching the film) and the technical difficulties of his directorial debut, while Tony tends to discuss more industry insider type stuff. John plays a supportive role. The track suffers from a bit of incessant back-patting, but it generally moves quickly and fills the space with non-repetitive anecdotes.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: Making Of Nightcrawler (5:20, HD) – An unfortunately fluffy behind-the-scenes EPK.
  • Trailers for other Universal releases


 Nightcrawler

Overall


I didn’t quite fall in love with Nightcrawler, but I can’t downplay its singular stylistic power. I’m still thinking about it several days later. Writer/director Dan Gilroy’s impartial approach to villainy and Jake Gyllenhaal’s steady, eerie performance stand out against a relatively conventional indictment of media culture. The Blu-ray looks nice, though it is uneven, in large part due to predominately dark sequences and the use of both digital HD and 35mm film. The DTS-HD MA soundtrack is crisp, yet understated and the extras include a solid writer/director, producer, and editor commentary.

 Nightcrawler
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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