Friday, December 19, 2014

Gyllenhaal Gives His Best Performance Yet in "Nightcrawler"

*This is another of those short year-end reviews.


Jake Gyllenhaal has quietly become one of the most interesting actors working today. Everyone wants to praise McConaughey (myself included), but Gyllenhaal has rebranded himself as well, recently. The reason this isn't as noticeable is because he still churned out great movies here and there while dabbling with big-budget fluff. His isn't the rom-com to Oscar glory road. It's more like Gyllenhaal took the occasional pit stop (paycheck) on his way to greatness (no Oscar yet, but he will have one soon if he keeps this up). Gyllenhaal was never pigeonholed like McConaughey was in rom-com land, but he did go through an everyman/hero phase in films like The Day After Tomorrow, Prince of Persia, and Source Code (by the way, I'm a big fan of Source Code, but his character is pretty normal). Now, even when he's playing what could a plain part (like in Prisoners), he's amping it up with little quirks that make the character more watchable. With Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal has finally found a role that is pure character study, and he truly shines in it.

Nightcrawler is about the seedy subculture of cameramen chasing after shocking footage for local news stations. Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) stumbles across this culture and sees an opportunity. It's set up from the beginning that Louis is off-balanced, and this profession completely fits his personality. What follows is his rise to "fame" in which he shows sociopathic disregard for fellow humans. 

I don't want to dwell on the story of Nightcrawler because I didn't find it nearly as compelling as Gyllenhaal's performance. Sure, it has something to say about our culture and all that, but I don't really see anything presented here that we don't already realize. This isn't blowing the lid off of sensational journalism. If anything, it even feels dated because the morning news is hardly something people care about anymore. It's an interesting world and all, but I don't think anyone needs to be told that people who glory in the injury and death of others are horrible. I feel like we all know that. My lack of engagement in the story isn't a fault, however, because the film is more interested in showing us the character of Louis Bloom than it is in teaching a lesson about society. Bloom is the story here, not morning news shows.

Gyllenhaal has always been able to portray slightly off-balanced characters, but he really inhabits this one. Louis Bloom is a constant opportunist, and you can see that in Gyllenhaal's crazed eyes. It's a great performance from the small moments (reprimanding an assistant) to the big ones (going full crazy in the mirror). What makes it truly great is that it is entertaining. This is a darkly hilarious film, and Gyllenhaal's deadpan delivery of some creepy dialogue is perfect. For instance, he shifts from talking business to his (coerced) relationship with Rene Russo instantly and without a change in tone. Sure, it's a disturbing portrait of a troubled man, but it's hard to deny that it isn't attempting to be funny many times. It's just refreshing to see a dark character study that has some humor to it instead of dwelling on misery. By the way, my favorite line from Louis has to be: "What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people, but that I don't like them?"

This is possibly Gyllenhaal's best performance yet. Some think it might get him an Oscar nomination (it hasn't been mentioned all that much, so I doubt that it will unfortunately), and it truly deserves some attention. At the very least it has shown just how good Gyllenhaal can be. Something tells me we'll be seeing more and more work like this from him in the coming years.

Nightcrawler receives a:

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