There are some movies out there which are pretty twisted and dark but they still manage to make you root for the main characters at some point or another despite their lack of redeeming features. Nightcrawler is a lot like that. Comparisons to films like American Psycho may be a little unwarranted but it is something that crossed my mind during this, and it does have that uneasy feeling at times where you're following behind someone who is slowly going over the edge. While it rarely ventures into what could be considered black comedy, the way things play out as an off kilter version of the typical underdog story against the backdrop of morally lacking TV news does have that vibe about it. But it runs with that stock premise to deliver something a little different - and the central hero being so enigmatic and sinister is what brings this all together.
Jake Gyllenhaal is impressive as Lou, an unemployed loner who apparently makes his living through stolen property and fast talking. While this way of making money seems less than successful, a chance encounter with a car accident being captured on film by Bill Paxton for sale to the local news station hooks his interest as a new path to success. Early on it could be possible that the character is simply a desperate guy out to try anything, but as the plot progresses it becomes clear that his empathy towards other people is ever so slightly lacking, and his way of thinking about career choices and how to climb the employment ladder are less than orthodox. It's odd and creepy but nevertheless magnetic. The supporting cast are all very good with Riz Ahmed as Lou's mistreated assistant and Rene Russo as the news director drawn to the ratings boost that their unapologetic footage will provide to her station. Whether they are in this for themselves or because of a lack of choices, they all get drawn in just the same.
While this is essentially a character piece at the core there are some other great elements to talk about. The plot itself starts out in a fairly standard direction but slowly ramps up the tension as things get more unnerving and the lengths that Lou will go to in staying ahead of the competition are revealed, particularly in the final act when things get less and less legal - as well as less predictable. They also capture some great looking visuals of the LA city scape, after all this is a story about things taking place after dark. The score is suitably acoustic sounding for the most part to drive the pacing, and while there are some odd choices during scenes that come off as sounding like a soap opera, it could be possible that this is intentionally done to make the emptiness of Lou's monologues become more apparent. It kinds of adds to his emotionless and manipulative nature. While some elements seem a little unrealistic - particularly when the crime scene footage becomes more violent but still gets broadcast, the internal logic holds things together. This delivers as a slick and engaging directorial debut and a great piece of work by the actors involved.
Brad Pitt stars in what is another violent and desaturated looking war action movie. It delivers on the kind of grim spectacle that is to be expected, in a story that centers on a tank crew during the end of the Second World War. There is an ongoing sense of them being outnumbered and outmatched, particularly in scenes when they face not only armour piercing weapons but superior German machinery. While this makes for a well made and engaging movie, certain other elements let the side down, mainly in the character writing. It seems as though they wanted to have both a grimy, unpleasant set of soldiers but also have them be sympathetic in other scenes, which is jarring when they are so unsavoury. It also doesn't help that the focus shifts from Pitt as the troubled leader who has seen too much death but demands his crew kill every SS officer they find, and the new recruit who is moralistic and cowardly and suddenly blood thirsty moments later. A stronger main character might have worked better. There is gripping war drama here along with well staged battle sequences, but more focus on the men involved would have gone a long way.