When I first heard about the film Nightcrawler, I envisioned a movie about a creepy serial killer stalking the streets.

And, even though the film is about a loner paparazzo, it is increasingly clear to see I wasn’t far wrong in my initial assessment.

When it comes to journalism, nightcrawlers are the lowest creatures on the food chain, rather like the blood-thirsty, diseased mosquitoes which the paparazzi are named after, or rather the monotonous humming they make when on the prowl.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a coruscating satire on current citizen journalism and ratings-driven media, reality culture, and the capitalist state, where anything is justified, even applauded, in the pursuit of money and fame.

It emulates many noir films, especially Taxi Driver, but with Jake Gyllenhaal at the reins, it soars far above the 70s seedy classic.

After thrilling audiences in films from Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko, and the similarly themed Zodiac, to name but a few, Gyllenhaal goes all method, in the same vein as Christian Bale, and loses his jolie laid quirky handsomeness after embarking on a starvation diet which subtly shifts his soulful stare into goggle-eyed mania, his fine bone structure into lean menace, and his movie star locks (think Prince of Persia) into an early De Niro degenerate. He sports longish, greasy strands, amusingly often partially tied into a tiny fashionable top knot, which looks freakish, especially when illuminated by the sodium lights of downtown LA, which cast a garish green tint, transforming his Hollywood glow into sallow queasiness. His look is of a devilish samurai of the mean streets.

However, looks will only take you so far and Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom echoes a Travis Bickle-style psycho. One line sums up not only his career but also his insidious presence: “I like to say, if you’re seeing me, you’re having the worst day of your life.”

As a thief-turned-nightcrawler, he learns fast, feeding off each grisly crime scene he photographs, ingratiating himself with a kindred spirit at a local news station (Rene Russo’s Nina “if it bleeds it leads” Romina), fast building up enough money to buy himself the essential tool of the trade – a fast car, a red demon that echoes Stephen King’s Christine. Actual Californian news anchors (including the fantastically named Kent Shocknet – what other career could possibly appeal with that moniker?) pad out the colleagues, although it is Russo who shines.

Lou quickly acquires a desperate assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), and appears as the boss straight from hell, spouting the typical management speak that can be found in many a manual and Tweeted in the corporate world daily. And although he may be uneducated and homeless, he still has the perspicacity to see the ghoul inside Lou, and points out that a little more warmth might make him more friends.

Lou’s reply speaks volumes: “What about if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them.” However, like many of his ilk, he stills knows to turn the oleaginous charm when he so chooses.

Being au fait with Britain’s media law, but unfamiliar with the Constitution across the Pond, I cannot say for sure but the footage shown on the morning news in Nightcrawler does stretch credulity about what can legally be shown on breakfast televison. Ratings may be one thing but I don’t think families would take too kindly to witnessing real-life horror that would be enough to make them choke on their Cheerios, as one of the anchors points out. It would almost certainly mean an investigation from the Press Complaints Commission.

That aside, Nightcrawler is certainly a five-star thriller that will keep you engrossed. I will have to disagree with Lou: if you see Gyllenhaal in this film, then you’re probably having one of the better days, or evenings, of your life.

DVD Review: Nightcrawler
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About The Author

Rhian is a freelance journalist and editor living in London. A film fan for as long as she can remember, her tastes cover the entire spectrum of cinema.