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Nightcrawler by James Newton Howard (Review)

posted Oct 18, 2014, 10:09 PM by Koray Savas

Dan Gilroy's directorial debut Nightcrawler is a thriller set in the underground crime syndicate of Los Angeles. Jake Glyenhaal is a man looking for work that stumbles upon a unique form of freelance journalism, which involves filming active crime scenes in order to sell the footage to media outlets. Dan is brother of writer/director Tony Gilroy, so it comes as no surprise that long-time collaborator James Newton Howard scores. However, Howard harkens back to Michael Mann's Collateral for a score that is textural and rock-based as opposed to something on the orchestral side of the spectrum.

Nightcrawler's sprawling nocturnal L.A. landscape is actually quite similar to the one Mann utilized in 2004, so it is a refreshing reminder of what Howard can do with urban crime drama. He literally hasn't written a score like this in 10 years, but despite the unique soundscape, the music lacks a unifying body that makes it wholly satisfying. There is not a lot of structure to the overarching narrative, but the rhythms and layers that Howard conjures up are always a fascinating listen. He's a brilliant composer that can effortlessly write in a magnitude of varying musical styles, and Nightcrawler is a token score in his filmography. Cues like "Lou And Rick On A Roll" and "The Wrong Way" contain a driving beat to them that really helps to fuel the on screen action. The main issue is that none of these cues are long enough to develop in any meaningful way. As soon as the ideas start building, the music fades off into something else. Moreover, there's a small inkling of a main theme that pops up every now and then that serves as the melodic backbone of the score, but it never gets a statement longer than 90 seconds. You can hear it in "Sell The Bike," "Lou's Philosophy," and "Making The News," with an awesome burst in "Lou's Free," but the fleeting runtime leaves you wanting more.

James Newton Howard's diverse body of work has something for every type of film score fan. From orchestral to synth and a wide range of textures and grand melodic flourishes in between, his work never fails to illicit some type of positive response as you listen. Nightcrawler has that uncommon ingredient of synth textures and a rollicking sense of hectic rock, but it never reaches its potential as a musical narrative, and thus isn't all that memorable.