You could be kind and suggest that the term “nightcrawler” refers simply to a person who owns the midnight hours, sort of like a night-owl. But in Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, the title refers to the the cold-blooded vultures who chase the bloodiest crime scenes in order to capture the gore on video for television news. They truly are worms that wiggle to the surface at night, and the wormiest of all is Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom.
Part Rupert Pupkin, part Weegee, Lou finds his true calling with a camera and police scanner, and he quickly becomes Rene Russo’s desperate news-director’s go-to source for the must-have disaster footage that yields big ratings. Gyllenhaal, who played a police detective in Prisoners whose nervous tic was chronic blinking, goes the other way here: Lou never blinks. His concentrated gaze, combined with an oily and wiry appearance that evokes a Ratso Rizzo played by Tom Cruise, gives him an unsettling presence. “It’s unclear whether the script called for [the weight loss] or if Gyllenhaal just wanted to make us feel how morally hollow his character is, how he’s spiritually rotting away from the inside,” writes EW‘s film critic Chris Nashawaty. “He has a bug-eyed intensity that gives the movie its nervous, late-night tweaker energy.”
Along for the ride is Bill Paxton, who plays a rival nightcrawler who sets Lou on his course, and Riz Ahmed, who plays the dim “intern” who doesn’t know what he’s signed on for when he becomes Lou’s partner in slime.
Read more from EW’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“In its wickedly twisted way, Nightcrawler keeps Network‘s battle cry alive. It’s a 21st-century takedown of the media’s pandering ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ ethos and the ghoulish nightcrawlers who live by it.”
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times) ▲
“Nightcrawler is pulp with a purpose. A smart, engaged film powered by an altogether remarkable performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, it is melodrama grounded in a disturbing reality, an extreme scenario that is troubling because it cuts close to the bone.”
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.
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle)
“The title suggests a horror movie. It’s not. It’s just the story of a horrible person, but a fascinating one, with no moral center and no capacity for empathy, but with a crazy kind of tenaciousness and an instinct for self-preservation.”
Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)
“Channeled by an almost unrecognizable Jake Gyllenhaal—here alarmingly gaunt, wild-eyed, rictus-grinning, his voice a high-pitched, reedy patter—Lou is the jittery, jaundiced avatar of the fatal collision of burgeoning technology, dying legacy media and a society in cultural and economic extremis.”
Anthony Lane (New Yorker)
“He is like a Billy Wilder hero (Kirk Douglas’s unscrupulous reporter, say, from Ace in the Hole), transplanted to the land of David Lynch. The difference is that, where Lynch, in Wild at Heart and Mulholland Dr., follows those who stagger away from car wrecks, hurt and haunted, Gilroy remains with the haunter, who only stands and stares.”
Claudia Puig (USA Today) ▲
“Gyllenhaal—whose recent roles in End of Watch, Prisoners and Enemy have been terrific—continues his impressive streak. This may well be his best-ever performance, in a compelling film that works equally well as a dynamic thriller, a psychological study, a grim satire and a searing indictment of contemporary journalism.”
Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
“Russo bites off some of the same scenery Faye Dunaway chewed in Network, and she spits it out with gusto. Nina’s a former anchorwoman aging downward in the business, and she’s ready to sell her soul to stay in the game. What do you know, here comes Satan.”
A.O. Scott (The New York Times)
“[Nightcrawler‘s] message—that the news media feeds a morbid fascination with atrocity—is hardly implausible, but the target is more than a little shopworn, and the stance of queasy outrage feels secondhand, not to say a bit hypocritical.”
Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)
“Gilroy’s screenplay is brimming with opportunities for Louis to share his philosophies about life, business, friendship and success. Half of it sounds like it was gleaned from a self-help book; the rest sounds like the ramblings of a delusional narcissist in need of immediate professional help.”
Liam Lacey (Toronto Globe & Mail)
“The movie is entirely watchable, thanks to the bright wide-screen, neo-noir night scenes (courtesy of Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematographer Robert Elswit) and another whacked-out, obsessive performance from Gyllenhaal... His performance often feels like a triumph of acting over material.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 79
Rotten Tomatoes: 96 percent
Length: 117 minutes
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
Directed by Dan Gilroy
Distributor: Open Road Films