'Nightcrawler' Reviews: 'Taxi Driver' Meets 'Network'

TIFF really, really likes Jake Gyllenhaal. In 2005, Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger earned raves for their work in “Brokeback Mountain.” Last year, Gyllenhaal and Denis Villeneuve premiered both the popular and well-reviewed (but loathsome) thriller “Prisoners” and the mind-bender “Enemy” to acclaim. This year, Gyllenhaal’s back again with Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut “Nightcrawler,” and it looks like he’s got another critical favorite, not to mention a career highlight. 

A neo-noir about the seamy world of L.A. crime journalism, “Nightcrawler’s” mix of scathing media satire and disturbed, driven protagonist was met at its premiere with comparisons to “Network” and “Taxi Driver.” Reviews are mostly positive, often glowing, though some have answered the film’s cries of “crime journalism is sleazy” with “well, duh.” But even the more skeptical reviews have praised Gyllenhaal’s unhinged performance and the nasty atmosphere Gilroy conjures. Those catching up with it when it hits Stateside on Halloween are advised to go in late at night to get maximum creepiness.

Scott Foundas, Variety

Touches of apocalyptic comedy run throughout “Nightcrawler,” but the movie’s overriding tone is one of strident, finger-wagging self-seriousness. Gilroy seems to think he’s really blowing the lid off something here about the depths to which journalists will sink, and the gross manipulations of TV news. When Louis shifts a few items around at one crime scene to make for a more pleasing visual composition, we’re meant to be shocked; and when he does the same thing a while later later — only, this time, with a human corpse as his set dressing — the grim laughter is supposed to catch in our throats. But both scenes are really just trumped-up versions of William Hurt’s post-produced crocodile tears in “Broadcast News,” and anything but shocking at a time when we’ve come to expect professional framing and lighting from even an ISIS beheading video. Read more.

Tim Grierson, ScreenDaily

The film works best in its exchanges between Lou and Rick where we see the depths of self-delusion eating into Lou’s personality. Intimidating the younger, impressionable Rick, Lou rules the roost in their nightly drives around L.A., and as his actions become increasingly ethically questionable, “Nightcrawler” creates a claustrophobic unreality between them. The two actors have a chilly rapport that’s apt for their relationship as the audience (along with Rick) slowly begins to understand the depths of Lou’s depravity. Read more.

Tomas Hachard, Slant Magazine

Nightcrawler” lives by Gyllenhaal’s great performance, but it dies by the limits of his character. Lou’s unwavering serenity and mastery of management give him a very particular creepiness, but the effect dulls with overexposure. And apart from its character study, the film includes little else of particular novelty to focus on. Gilroy tries to construct a social satire, but his targets—the falsity of business jargon and the ethics of “if it bleeds it leads” news—are old-hat. There are hints of some more modern elements, including a few jokes linking Lou’s behavior to millennial kids weaned on too much self-esteem, but the film’s themes largely feel pulled from the ’80s, not as homage, but as outdated media criticism. Read more.

Jordan Hoffman, Film.com

The best thing in “Nightcrawler,” however, is Jake Gyllenhaal himself. Lou Bloom, by some form of black magic, is likable, even though he is 100% devoid of morals and not even a real person. Nothing out of his mouth is genuine – he’s like Al Pacino’s character in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but instead of obfuscating with verbal smoke and mirrors he’s disarmingly direct. Read more.

Jordan Mintzer, The Hollywood Reporter

It’s an acrobatic performance in a movie that constantly oscillates – sometimes impressively and sometimes tediously – between neo-noir and contemporary satire, using Los Angeles as the backdrop for a world whose values have gone completely out of whack. Those elements, along with a near two-hour running time, may make this upcoming Open Road release a tough sell for the general public, though the film will certainly have its fans, while its star should gain even more recognition as one of the most daring actors working in Hollywood today. Read more.

Noel Murray, The Dissolve

Gilroy is making an unapologetic neo-noir with “Nightcrawler,” which means making Los Angeles look like a steamy hell and letting his protagonist come across as a dangerous man. And while the movie’s “Network”/”Taxi Driver”-inspired arc—with the social misfit Lou catering to the news business’ worst instincts—drives into a rut early and never leaves it, Gilroy does drive hard, and refuses to compromise his vision for the movie by opening up the plot or by making Lou more likable. Read more.

Adam Nayman, CinemaScope

Gyllenhaal is a resourceful actor, and he’s seriously entertaining as a guy whose malevolence reveals itself in increments, hidden behind well-practiced politesse; it’s exactly how a smart loner might try to talk to other people, and it gives the early scenes some tension. (He’s even creepier keeping his eyes wide open instead of blinking incessantly à la Prisoners). Like most genre movies, “Nightcrawler” gets worse as it goes along, but its scuzzy, fetid atmosphere lingers almost all the way to the final buzzer. Read more.

Rodrigo Perez, The Playlist

There’s a terrific turning point midway where the movie kicks into a propulsive and uneasy high gear where it becomes an intense (and very entertaining) thriller that never looks back. Gilroy’s film constantly tests suspension of belief in this section, but it flies by so fast and Gyllenhaal’s wiry, wild-eyed immersion is so committed, it prevents the movie from going off the rails. And while Gilroy’s drama has the capacity to potentially wipeout in its second half, much of the pleasure of watching “Nightcrawler” is witnessing its daring high-wire act teeter on a razor’s edge and yet gloriously stick the landing. The last act is deliriously thrilling, like watching a rickety roller coaster rise up on one set of wheels while sustaining itself on a broken track. Read more.

Brian Tallerico, RogerEbert.com

“Nightcrawler” is an L.A. story through and through. Writer Dan Gilroy makes his directorial debut and proves more than capable at pacing a gritty thriller like this one, but hiring cinematographer Robert Elswit as his D.P. may have been his smartest decision. Los Angeles hasn’t been this vital of a setting since “Drive,” as Lou’s story is lit by the night lights of the City of Angels—street, head, and dashboard. “Nightcrawler” hums, pulses and vibrates with the night life of a city where getting attention has become more essential than getting ahead. Well, they’ve become one and the same. Read more.

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