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Saturday, November 1, 2014

Why Nightcrawler Is The Better, Improved Version Of Gone Girl

There are a lot of similarities between David Fincher's Gone Girl and Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler: both star a career-best performance by their A-list leading man, both are a dark, twisted tale brought on by a sociopath, and both are a scathing satire on the relationship Americans have with the media. The only difference is that Gone Girl is directed by an experienced director with a rookie screenwriter, whereas Nightcrawler is directed by a first-time director with a veteran screenwriter. While we like to think as movies as the director's forum (whereas TV is the writer's playground), the reality is that if you do not have a great, or even good script, there's nothing even the best directors can do to tell a masterful story.

That's the main problem with Gone Girl. While David Fincher is at his best in his latest film, and he probably does some of the best directing work of his career, Gone Girl is just an average movie. There's nothing that Fincher could have done to save Gillian Flynn's script, and in fact, Flynn's script in the hands of almost every other director is a flat out bad movie. It is not that Flynn is a bad screenwriter, it's that her original story (Flynn also wrote the book Gone Girl) is so bonkers, bat-shit crazy that I'm surprised it ever became popular enough as a book to get Hollywood's attention. You can read my full review of Gone Girl here.

If there is a problem with Nightcrawler, it is that the story flows great and goes into a wonderfully dark place, but Dan Gilroy's first time behind the camera work does show at times. Dan Gilroy is a career Hollywood screenwriter with such classics under his belt like Two For The Money, Reel Steel, and The Bourne Legacy. Gilroy wrote Nightcrawler and was given his first opportunity to direct as well. Nightcrawler is not a perfect script (although compared to Gone Girl it might as well be William Goldman's opus) but Gilroy clearly knows what he wants to say, clearly has a great sense of how his world is set up, and each scene is a logical extension from the last.

Nightcrawler is a fantastic character study of Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an ambitious, young sociopath in modern day L.A. who is just looking for a job in today's economic climate (as the first teaser trailer for the film so aptly, yet subtly points out). Very early on in the film, Bloom discovers the world of nightcrawling- freelance videographers who follow police scanners in an attempt to catch a glimpse of tragic events around the city to sell to the news stations for their morning news.

Bloom starts off filming with a pawn shop camcorder, but eventually becomes so good at what he does, that he's able to afford better equipment in no time. Bloom develops a fantastic professional relationship with Nina (Rene Russo), a news director for a struggling local TV station who is just looking for specific bloody crimes and accidents. As Bloom starts to go above and beyond for his job, and as he starts to get more graphic footage, his career (as well as Nina's) starts to improve.

The first act of the film (maybe even the second one as well) aren't the greatest; however, it's completely necessary to set up the type of person that Louis Bloom is. The film almost entirely focuses solely on Louis Bloom, and I can't think of a single scene that Jake Gyllenhaal isn't in. Normally this could work to restrict the film's narrative, especially a film like this one which is making a specific point. However, it works wonderfully in this case as at this film's heart is about its troubled lead.

What really sends this film over the edge, in a good way, is the film's third act. There's only so many times you can take your lead around L.A. before you realize that you have to start focusing on a specific event. The film's writing structure reminds me a lot of another Jake Gyllenhaal film- 2012's surprisingly excellent End of Watch, a film that focuses on the lives on two cops before really getting going by focusing on one crime. The third act of Nightcrawler literally had me on the edge of my seat and finally got me to fully buy into everything, and it really shows you the full depth of who Louis Bloom truly is.

Speaking of which, this film does not work if Jake Gyllenhaal isn't the star of it. His robotic like delivery and his off-putting looks combined with his previous reputation for playing a creeper (Donnie Darko, The Good Girl) and his intensity (Brokeback Mountain) make him the perfect lead for this film. Nighrcrawler is by far and away Gyllenhaal's best performance and he needs to be in the Best Actor Academy Nomination conversation in a year that seems filled with contenders. Even at the parts of the film (mainly early on) that seem slow, it's Gyllenhaal's magnetic performance that sucks you in and makes you think "Holy shit, Gyllenhaal is great". It would be unfair to call Louis Bloom an anti-hero, because that would mean that he is heroic in any sort of way. Louis Bloom is a straight up villain who just so happens to be the protagonist of this story. That makes Gyllenhaal's performance even more impressive, because despite everything, you still can't help but root for his character to succeed.

After starring in blockbuster duds like Prince of Persia and The Day After Tomorrow, Jake Gyllenhaal is having his own McConaissance of sorts. Admittedly, this isn't truly fair as Gyllenhaal started off his career with the fantastic Donnie Darko and did Brokeback Mountain (and to a lesser extent Jarhead, which didn't work as a film but Sam Mendes was coming off of American Beauty and Road to Perdition, so at least Gyllenhaal was trying) before his blockbusters, but Gyllenhaal doesn't seem interested in those sort of tent-pole films anymore. Soon after, Gyllenhaal did his own Fincher film (Zodiac) before hitching his wheel to up and coming filmmakers like David Ayers (End of Watch) and Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy). Like David Ayers, Gyllenhaal is now working with another writer-turned-director, which helps helps cements his reputation in this business as well as in the minds of the audience for this and future projects. For me personally, I just want to watch interesting and compelling characters, and Gyllenhaal gives that to me in spades in Nightcrawler.

Despite how Gyllenhaal and Louis Bloom suck you in to make you care about the events on screen, the purpose of Nightcrawler is to both be a commentary on today's culture regarding the job market for Generation X, as well as be a dark, and at times comedic, take on the sensationalism of the news. When Louis Bloom first meets Nina, she tells him what exactly what footage she wants and is expecting of him. What may seem like something society critiques about in blogs like Politico is something Nina views as her job description. As Louis delivers on this expectation, Lou Bloom starts to get more money and more praise which leads to the film's wonderful and brilliant climax.

As I mentioned earlier, the only real flaw in Nightcrawler is the direction. Dan Gilroy clearly knows what he wants to do and how he visually wants his story to unfold, but I couldn't help thinking that this script in the hands of a better director could have turned this really good movie into a Holy Shit great movie. In fact, I couldn't help thinking that this is the project that David Fincher should have chosen over Gone Girl. Fincher's polished dark visual motifs combined with this knack for storytelling would have turned Nightcrawler from a movie you should see into a movie that becomes a cultural icon. While Gilroy doesn't have the greatest pedigree, he very obviously knows how to write a story and with Fincher's expertise, Nightcrawler could have been my next favorite movie. That being said, no movie needs to be a Holy Shit great movie to be really, really good. Nightcrawler is ample proof of that.



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