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Collateral Damage – ★★★

Jake Gyllenhaal’s latest film sees him dropping a few pounds to play a freelance ambulance-chasing camera-man with some serious career goals and personality quirks.

Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is a strange fellow. We encounter him first in the dead of night somewhere in the outskirts of Los Angeles as he gets to work on “reclaiming” some manhole covers and chain-link fencing, with the intention of selling it off. We’re not sure where he’s come from, but in asking the scrap dealer for a job, we’re quickly made aware that he sees himself going places.

02Bloom encounters an accident on the freeway and being, the inquisitive soul that he is, decides to pull in and have a look. He encounters Bill Paxton as a freelance camera-man who follows emergency services scanners to see where his next filming gig may be, knowing that network news stations pay big money for footage of the action. Bloom robs a bike to buy a camcorder (as you do) and sets up his own little freelance crime and accident journalism enterprise, eventually getting set up with an assistant, scanners, GPS equipment and a lightning-fast car. Throughout this he works exclusively for Rene Russo’s Nina, a news producer at one of LA’s networks. Over time he gets ballsier in his quest for more-enticing footage and the idea of doing something like adjusting the position of a body in a car-wreck in order to get a better shot doesn’t seem to bother him.

Nightcrawler sees Dan Gilroy making his directing debut, having worked with his brother Tony (who acted as producer here) as screenwriter for The Bourne Legacy in 2012. He does an OK job here but most of the characters are incredibly under-developed (perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt and say “mysterious”) and things happen without much warning or background, and hence the audience may be left a little unaffected. This is probably all intended but left me feeling very distant from the action on-screen.

The two stars of the show here are Jake Gyllenhaal (more on him later) and Robert Elswit on cinematography duties. He’s an Oscar-winner as Paul Thomas Anderson’s go-to DP on There Will Be Blood, but has also caught the eye for his work on things like Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Syriana and Good Night, and Good Luck. His work here is fantastic and with almost all of the film taking place at night, it manages to shows LA in a way not seen since Michael Mann’s Collateral a decade ago. It was shot on ARRI Alexa cameras which capture light and shadows beautifully. This is a film that should be seen on the big screen with a bright, crisp digital projector.

For a film that looks so good, it’s a credit to Gyllenhaal that any time he’s on-screen, he continuously holds your gaze. His physical performances have always been notable (remember the blinking in Prisoners?!) but here he brings life to a very one-dimensional sociopath character, and this time he doesn’t blink very much at all. His character lacks any moral compass, but despite this Gyllenhaal ensures we still spend as much time rooting for him as we do against him.

Ultimately Nightcrawler is a very impressive first feature and showcases some men at the very top of their game. But, for some intangible reason, Gilroy seems to have left something out of the mix.

Released across Ireland on the 31st October 2014

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.