Nightcrawler might as well be called the Jake Gyllenhaal Show. The actor who flamed out in becoming a box-office star has spent the last few years pursuing more challenging material. From David Ayer’s End of Watch and the double collaboration with Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy), Gyllenhaal continues to push himself as an actor and his performance in Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut may just be his best to date.
A dark look at local news and the importance of sensationalistic stories for the sake of garnering ratings, Nightcrawler is fiction with more than a hint of truth. The title refers to a name associated with freelance video stringers who hustle to find the best (worst?) violent images—car accidents, murders, mayhem—to shoot and sell to the station that wants it the most. Without introspection just know the stations most in need are those looking for a ratings boost. As one character puts it, “Think of what we do as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” If you’re a news director for the lowest-rated news station working the graveyard shift what’s the best way to entice viewership at the crack of dawn? Do you lead with a story involving a little girl and her “Make-a-Wish” wish or of a home burglary in an affluent neighborhood that ends with a homeowner shot and killed?
With the shape of the news today, and its “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality, it’s no surprise that there is an industry that exists for individuals that prefer to sleep during the day and spend their nights covering the misfortunes of others. Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is one such individual. Introduced as a petty thief hustling stolen goods to make a living, Bloom happens upon the aftermath of a roadside accident. Curious, he pulls over and walks over to the scene. Seconds later a speeding van comes to a stop near the accident and a man, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), jumps out to film it. Louis asks him what he’s doing and quickly learns that Joe is a freelance cameraman shooting the accident for the purpose of selling the footage to a local TV station—whichever pays the most. Louis, now intrigued, decides to buy a camera and police scanner and try it out for himself.
If Travis Bickle was an insomniac schizophrenic taxi driver, imagine, if you will, Louis Bloom as an insomniac sycophant videographer. Both take to graveyard shifts but have alternate opinions of the world around them. Bickle is poorly educated and is sickened by his customers – pimps, addicts and thieves. Bloom is mostly self-educated and lacking scruples, thusly he enjoys the images he captures in his viewfinder.
Not surprising, both Gyllenhaal and De Niro were the same ages (33) when inhabiting these cinematic creeps. De Niro’s Bickle has the iconic line, “You tawkin’ to me,” and eye-catching mohawk. Gyllenhaal’s Bloom is Mr. Optimism with the memorable “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket,” which pairs nervously with his dead eyes and skeletal cheekbones. Gyllenhaal’s transformation isn’t as freakishly extreme as what Christian Bale did for 2004’s The Machinist (where he lost 60 pounds), but it helps further Lou Bloom’s creepiness, especially with a personality that consists of a false smile and being garrulous, spouting self-help advice as if listened to Tony Robbins’ audiotapes endlessly.
Bloom’s introduction to the competitive world of nightcrawling is awkward at the start, but he hits pay-dirt after lucking into some exclusive footage, which he sells to Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a graveyard shift news director hungry for ratings. Impressed by Bloom’s tenacity and brazenness the two form a cozy relationship that benefits both parties. But as Bloom becomes more and more daring in his pursuit to get the best video, he disregards ethics and the law, as if guided by an immoral compass.
Nightcrawler is slow to start on account of our introduction to Louis Bloom and exposition problems. Eventually the narrative finds its footing and becomes a dark and cynical tale of a man so divorced from reality that any hardships he’s encountered previously have helped in the creation of the figure presented now. Gyllenhaal’s Bloom is a walking metaphor for how morally hollow today’s news has become, and the drama’s go-for-broke attitude subtly acknowledges the socio-economic divide.
When describing Nightcrawler to others the two films I bring up are Network and American Psycho. The first is about the subject of news (an easy comparison), the second is about character. Both Gyllenhaal’s Bloom and Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman undergo transformations that are frightening and darkly funny. Bateman’s musings of pop music is not unlike Bloom and his maxims of success.
The film has some narrative hiccups at times, including Bloom working with his nervous intern/employee Rick (Riz Ahmed), which serves more for Bloom to espouse his superior knowledge about teamwork and job advancement, but the fallback is Rene Russo. Her supportive role as Nina gives the actress, who owned the screen along the likes of Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner and Pierce Brosnan in the ’90s, a part befitting her vampiress-like character. One she can sink her teeth into.
Nightcrawler is raw and feral just like the story’s anti-hero. The drama depicts drive and obsessiveness, alienation and self-motivation. It’s a story with bite. Be careful, though. The aftertaste is toxic.
Writer/Director: Dan Gilroy Notable Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!