The Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Synergy of Nightcrawler

Where story, character, direction and cinematography collide.
By  · Published on November 21st, 2016

Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a special kind of film. It didn’t win scores of awards, but it did instantly win the captivation of audiences, becoming in the process a film like Rian Johnson’s Brick, Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko (also starring Jake Gyllenhaal), Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, or, perhaps its best all-around parallel, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver: something so brashly unique and startlingly American that it’s more than a movie, it’s a social reflection of our darkest corners, a spotlight on our best-kept fetishes, and a condemnation of our culture’s lascivious obsession with pain, death, violence, mental illness, and the socially isolated. The first time I saw Nightcrawler was quickly followed by the second time I saw Nightcrawler, and my third viewing was only a few weeks after that. There’s just something about it that begs multiple viewings, and I know many fans of the film who feel the same way. It is a thing to be absorbed, not just observed, it is a document that reaches out to you in a variety of ways through a variety of means and transforms you each time you see it. Needless to say, it’s one of my favorite films of recent years, and gets my vote for among the best American films of the decade to-date.

But what is it about Nightcrawler that makes it so fascinating? It all starts with the script of course, and Gilroy’s is top-notch, and in fact the only element of the film nominated for an Oscar (it lost to Birdman), which is both an honor and a crime because the other thing that obviously elevates Nightcrawler is Jake Gyllenhaal’s astoundingly brutal performance, easily the best of his career to date.

For as much credit as these two facets receive, however, it must be remembered that they are part of a triumvirate with Gilroy’s direction alongside Robert Elswit’s cinematography. How the two men apply a simplistic style of staging and framing to this complicated character study is the subject of an outstanding video essay from Samuel Auer in which he deconstructs Nightcrawler from a cinematographical and directorial perspective. At 15 minutes it’s an investment, but one that starts delivering dividends from the first minute in the form of Auer’s insightful commentary and the conclusions to which it leads.

If you love Nightcrawler like I love Nightcrawler then you need to get this at the top of you must-watch list, but beyond being a fan of this specific film, if you want to see how cinematic synergy should be, each element in supporting balance with the others, then this is also a vital video. Either way, do yourself a favor and get eyes on it.

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Novelist, Screenwriter, Video Essayist