A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014)

That an actor as good as Jake Gyllenhaal, still in his 30s, should have to resort to transformative tricks to get a noticeable role is regrettable. Ever since the Brits learned to do American accents that don't sound like they're talking through their noses while chewing gum, young American actors have had it hard. Why should producers take a chance on a Yank when they can hire a Hiddleston or a Cumberbatch or one of the Dominics (Cooper or West)? So you're doing a TV series about a Russian spy pretending to be an American? Naturally you hire Matthew Rhys, a Welshman. Want a fresh face? Check out RADA or that young guy who just got raves playing Hamlet in Bristol. What's an American actor got to do to get a break? If you're Matthew McConaughey trying to avoid getting cast in another rom-com, you lose 47 pounds and win an Oscar. Or if you're Gyllenhaal, you lose all the muscle you built for the turkey Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (Mike Newell, 2010), let your hair go long and greasy, turn yourself into one of the more fascinatingly repellent characters in recent films and get the best reviews you've had since Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005). Nightcrawler is a solid drama with a satiric edge, in which Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a sociopath who roams the streets of Los Angeles at night, listening to a police scanner for reports of shootings, fires, car crashes -- anything that comes under the TV news rubric, "If it bleeds, it leads." He films whatever gore he can worm his way past police lines to witness, then sells it to a local TV news outlet. There are semi-legitimate, better-equipped outfits doing this sort of thing, but they have some scruples. Bloom has none; his amorality is hair-raising. This was the first film as a director for Dan Gilroy, who also wrote the screenplay, and it has a terrific cast supporting Gyllenhaal. Rene Russo plays a TV news producer whose ethical standards are only a shade higher than Bloom's. She makes Faye Dunaway's Diana Christensen in Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976) look almost namby-pamby. Riz Ahmed plays Rick, a homeless kid whom Bloom hires as an assistant and abuses and profoundly exploits. After his turn in HBO's miniseries The Night Of (2016), Ahmed is in danger of getting typed as a wide-eyed patsy. Bill Paxton, one of those actors whose presence always helps make a film better, plays an older and more experienced TV news freelancer who shows Bloom the ropes and winds up getting sabotaged for his efforts.