Screen Dialogue Genius: Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler is a phenomenal screenplay, and a great movie. I read the script long before seeing the film, and had such a great experience that I was almost fearful of watching the movie. Like when you read a great book, you don’t believe the movie can add to it. Fortunately, in this case the writer of the book also directed the movie. The result: a reassuring consistency of vision.

[box type=”download” style=”rounded”]Download the Dialogue Checklist – Watch the video below to download the Nightcrawler movie script.

The Nightcrawler screen dialogue in particular is extraordinary. Jake Gyllenhaal said:

I really believe Dan should make it into a play. The dialogue is so amazing in the script; I memorized it like a play. And I fell in love with the speeches. They’re still in my mind. I can still recite pretty much all of them.

The tale of nightcrawler Louis Bloom is not only a terrific story; it is also an unusual script. Gilroy does away with traditional formatting. Everything is set at night, and sluglines really only state the scenes’ setting. Here and there, big titles jump off the page in font sizes well exceeding the mandatory 12 point, and some titles even use proportional fonts.

None of this is revolutionary – the Coen Brothers have long ignored traditional sluglines, and their scripts read fine – but it’s not something I recommend a newbie should do.

Louis Bloom – The Coyote

nightcrawler screen dialogue - jake gyllenhaal

Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an eerily perfect rendition of the ‘hungry coyote’ Lou Bloom. The image of the animal appears in the screenplay twice – at the opening, and again at the mid point. More on this last one later.

The coyote is a jester, and can not be trusted, much like Lou. He is on screen for only one minute and 15 seconds before we get it: he is poor, resourceful, deceptive and fearless. Soon we’ll figure out that he also has an unrelenting desire to move up in the world.

Because the coyote spirit seemed so important to both Gilroy and Gyllenhaal, it is probably no coincidence that Bloom watches Danny Kaye in The Court Jester. And which car sounds like ‘coyote’? (Lou drives a Toyota)

The coyote is also mysterious. No character in the story ever really gets to know Lou, except for his prey… when it is too late. By the time Nina realises his cunning intent, she’s caught in the one-way spikes of his plan.

Lou’s Screen Dialogue

[SPOILERS] Gilroy’s writing is sublime. Direct, tight and entertaining. The script reads like it was written in one breath, a single continuous movement from Lou’s first appearance to his inevitable victory.

nightcrawler screen dialogue

As elegant as the screenplay’s action lines may be, Lou’s screen dialogue reads awkward and unnatural. It fits his character perfectly: at no point does Lou reveal any truth or even humanity.

Lou is always scheming, relentlessly pursuing his goal, mercilessly dragging along his victims. Without malicious intent. It simply lies in his nature. With a gentle smile, he spouts self-improvement quotes, insulting the woman he would like to date.

Or would he?

A Gift You Give Yourself

The scene is all screen dialogue. The only action lines are the intro:

Crowded and loud ... Mexican movies projected on walls ... LOU and NINA eating at a table ...

nightcrawler screen dialogue - jake gyllenhaal and rene russoRene Russo – wife to director Dan Gilroy – plays the news director on the vampire shift at the lowest rated station in L.A., and Lou has her squarely in the cross hairs. He knows that she can bring him where he needs. If he plays it smart, she has no other option. (Of course he plays it smart)

Nina opens with small talk, while Lou goes straight int0 battle by giving her an over-the-top compliment.

I’m sure you’re beautiful anytime of day. In fact I’d say you’re much prettier than Lisa Mays. I like the dark make-up on your eyes. I also like how you smell.

She may be flattered, but she also knows this is weird. Mildly inappropriate. So she safely ignores it, and asks where he is from.

In the movie, Lou hardly ever blinks, yet Nina’s question makes him uneasy. No-one gets to him, ever. So he covers up, bringing the conversation back to the job…

The north end of the valley. Some of the calls sometimes take me over that way but nobody I know is still out there.

… and back to her:

You’re from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The End Of The Subtext

jake gyllenhaal - nightcrawler screen dialogueIt doesn’t take long for Lou to state it plainly…

The place I’m in now is that I want a relationship with somebody I can team up with and share, like we share the same job and whatnot.

Although the subtext is painfully obvious, Nina chooses to ignore it. Responds that she hopes he’ll find someone.

Lou doesn’t accept rejection:

Here’s the thing about that, Nina, I’m quite certain that I already have.

Nina quietly explodes. No more subtext. No more bullshit.

Okay, let me put this politely. I only came out to dinner with you, Lou, purely as a professional courtesy.

Though Lou remains undeterred in his offensive, at this point Nina still feels that she has the upper hand. She is wrong.

The conversation turns stone cold, and Lou leads the screen dialogue, confidently. In an extensive monologue, he explains how his work has garnered him genuine ratings power. And therefore, power over Nina’s destiny.

This is screen dialogue of the highest calibre. No wonder Jake Gyllenhaal had a ball learning it all by heart.

In our scene, the tide has turned. This movie is no longer about Lou Bloom. This is about Nina Romina’s moral downfall. In Nightcrawler, Lou only goes through an ‘outer journey’. He doesn’t really change. He just gets what he wants. Nina, however, experiences a strong, tragic arc, and at the movie’s midpoint her fate is sealed.

rene russo and jake gyllenhaal - nightcrawler screen dialogue

The shot’s framing separates the two characters at extreme ends of the screen. Nina tries to keep her composure, and states politely, in response to Lou’s devastating monologue:

We certainly appreciate what you do.

She is still pretending to have the power. In truth, she has lost not only the battle, but the entire war.

To reaffirm his dominance, Lou returns to the personal territory and effectively pressures her to sleep with him. Nina expresses her disgust, but it’s water off a duck’s back.

I’m sure you know … a friend is a gift you give yourself.

In the script – not in the movie – the next shot says:

feeding on an indistinct downed animal ...

-Karel Segers

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