Directed By: Dan Gilroy
Written By: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton
First time director Dan Gilroy has started strong with his debut film Nightcrawler. This sadistic character study is darkly twisted in the best ways. It is a manifestation of the alluring but devastating car crash our minds simply cannot turn away from. Nightcrawler tantalizes that part of humanity that is fascinated with carnage and bloodshed. It will allure you with its thrills and fascinate you with its eccentric behavior.
Nightcrawler works best when it is solely focused on the character of Lou Bloom played ever so brilliantly by Jake Gyllenhaal. Bloom is an oddity of a man. Unemployed he makes a living by finding random jobs like selling stolen metal to Los Angles scrapyards. Our first encounter with Lou gives us the sense we are dealing with a man with questionable morals—or perhaps someone absent of them altogether.
After being confronted by a security officer for being a private property he turns on the charm and plays dumb. Then when the moment presents itself he quickly assaults the officer, and to add insult to injury steals his watch. Never once showing any sign of regret for any of these actions
Quickly we learn what type of character we are dealing with. Lou is not an educated man, but speaks with the intellect of an Aaron Sorkin character. He learns what he needs through the computer and does so with stunning success. It is like he memorized every TED talk on how to succeed in today’s business world, and recites it back with precise accuracy. There are certainly fragments of inspiration inside the character of Lou. Norman Bates and Travis Bickle are two that quickly come to mind. Still, there has never quite been a character like this before, and much of that is thanks to the performance of Jake Gyllenhaal.
Some may focus on the fact he lost twenty pounds for this role, but that is only a small part of what makes it work. There are so many unique facets to what Gyllenhaal is doing it is nearly impossible to justify with words. Even his posture has an unnatural quality about it. It is like if an alien came to Earth and attempted to mimic human behavior, but some key components were lost in the translation. His eyes have an almost reptilian quality as they are always wide-eyed and never blinking. With those said eyes he is always looking for the next opportunity to take advantage.
He finds that opportunity in the unexpected world of freelance film journalism. After stumbling upon a fiery accident he meets cameraman Joe Loder, played by the always fun Bill Paxton. He informs Lou of the money that can be made selling shocking video to News Stations. As Louder puts it, “If it bleeds it leads’, and Lou is all about leading.
His personality is one of unfettered determination. Manipulation, lying, cheating, or whatever else is needed he will do to get ahead. It is this ambition where the film gets most of its absorbing thrills. Lou pays no attention to proper journalistic practices or even simple human decency. He will place himself in the middle of a high-speed car chase, or hop police tape to zoom in on the worst parts of tragedy. His first notable piece is that of a carjack victim slowly succumbing to his wounds as he lies in a puddle of his own blood in the middle of a crowded street. This small taste of success leads to a full on addiction.
Considering its subject matter there is no surprise Nightcrawler enters into the world of social commentary. Criticizing how our local news will pick sensationalism over actual information. How they will focus on crime in white and affluent neighborhoods because it will attract the most attention. Lou is unmistakably a microcosm of today’s news culture as his line between reporter and creator of news becomes blurred.
However, where it really has its bite is the allegorical relationship between news and cinema.Specially the way both purposely manipulate your emotions. This is best summed up in a scene where news director Nina Romina, who is played by an also impressive Rene Russo, directs their stations exclusive home invasion coverage. Everything from the news graphic to the words spoken by the anchors are specifically designed to entice. This footage, which was shot by Lou in another standout scene, has a quagmire of ethical issues which go ignored due to the desire for bigger ratings.
Not all the observations where quite as potent. When further information is discovered regarding the same home invasion the criticism goes one step too far as it hammers home a point that was well made already. More importantly Nightcrawler appears to want it both ways—it wants to condemn the sensational style of our current news, yet it also finds itself fetishizing on the same type of violence and depravity. As if its metaphorical implications are nothing more than a clever ruse used to hide its insidious intentions.
While I personally would not go that far, an argument could be made that Nightcrawler becomes shocking for shock sake. Even if that is true there is no doubting the well-crafted tension that is made in the process. When you have an unpredictable character like Lou in an unpredictable situation like freelance video reporter there is an endless array of options to choose from. This keeps you on your toes never knowing what will come next.
Speaking of options Cinematographer Robert Elswit made an unusual choice to shoot the daytime in classic 35 mm and nighttime in digital. This illustrates the dual personality of the city of Los Angles. During the early mornings we see Lou soaking in a quiet existence inside his small home that is devoid of personality. If it was not for everything we know about Lou you would almost find him enduring with the way he chuckles at classic lowbrow movies and constantly waters his single plant. At night, when Lou is in his element, the world becomes more vibrant and lively to match the intense energy. This camerawork by Elswit’s went along way to amplify the mood throughout.
All the camerawork and commentary are welcomed added elements, but even without that Nightcrawler is one of the most fascinating characters studies that has been depicted in quite some time. Louis Bloom is an unsolvable enigma that is somehow void of sympathetic qualities yet still mesmerizing to watch. Fittingly as the title suggest he will make your skin crawl and you will enjoy every second of it.