Monday, October 6, 2014

Fantastic Fest 2014 Review: NIGHTCRAWLER

Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gylenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed
Synopsis: A con-man discovers and thrives in the underworld crime news world in LA. 

There's a stigma at Fantastic Fest that it's a waste of time to see a wide release movie. It's not a bad stigma, mind you. Why waste a slot on a movie you'll see on Netflix in nine months when you could see a movie that could never get distribution and just sit in a studio's back catalog? Every so often, however, there is a mainstream movie that you're glad you got to see with a Fantastic Fest audience. This movie was NIGHTCRAWLER. It played as the closing night film with director Dan Gilroy, and it was one of the best movies of the festival.

Starring Jake Gyllenghaal, the movie follows Lou Bloom, a scrappy smooth talker who's insanely shady. In the opening moments of the movie, you see him cut up a wire to sell the components for money. He then knocks out a security guard and tries to negotiate a job with the man he just sold stolen metal from by spouting off generic statistics about the workforce and motivation to work hard in an underpaid job market where the applicant has little power. Through a series of events, he comes to find out about nightcrawlers, independent camera crews that sell crime scene footage to the local stations. There's a whole underground economy and politics that go along with this. The seemingly broke Lou steals a bike, and then pawns it to buy a camera and we see his progression through this rather morally ambiguous career.

Jake Gyllenhaal is absolutely amazing in NIGHTCRAWLER. At first it was feared that his weight loss was an almost-cliche way of trying to get an Oscar nod, but in reality, it's just part of who Lou is instead of being a gimmick. This might actually be his best performance yet with him delivering lines with a conviction and layers upon layers of double meanings, with a particularly intense monolouge that received applause from the audience. Lou is portrayed as a socially awkward individual who at the same time knows how to work well with people in the most shallow and business-related ways possible. He's the type of person that regurgitates self-help lingo to appear friendly, but is the type that thinks of people as assets to be used to further his business. His way of speaking is almost like villain in that it can be charming and completely unnerving at the drop of a dime. Between PRISONERS, ENEMY, and now NIGHTCRAWLER, Jake Gyllenhaal is in a rather quiet career high.

As directorial debut for Gilroy, NIGHTCRAWLER stands as a TAXI-esque character study and an ode to whatever twisted beauty there might be in Los Angeles. The way that Gilroy shoots it, there is a certain reverence for it despite being the setting for such awful crimes and occurrences. The score's reverb-drenched guitars give the vibe of a grimy late 80's/early 90's crime thriller. And this movie is filled with tons of crime both by the criminals and the people filming them.

While the movie chooses to mostly focus on Lou, it's interesting to see some of the commentary about the news cycle, content creation, and the manipulation of the facts for personal gain. In this particular age, content is the key, and the TV director that Lou works with, Nina, knows this all to well, which is why she's willing to abide by the questionable methods that Lou uses to create the gripping footage that is increasing her ratings. While the movie directly deals with local TV news, an older media platform, the commentaries could be applied to web sites that post constant "clickbait" headlines (misleading or enticing headlines meant to get a potential reader to click, thus increasing potential ad revenue), and how the distortion of information for the short-term gain of an agency can be ultimately harmful to society as a whole.

NIGHTCRAWLER is seriously one of the best movies of the year so far. Between the great visual style, the story that makes the almost two hour run time seem like 30 minutes, and the career-defining performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, it is a must-see movie for any cinephile out there.

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