When the TV glows to life each morning in millions of households across Los Angeles, viewers are treated to their dose of breakfast news. Bleak stories of tragedy that unfolded through the night
are often prefaced with that ominous statement: viewer discretion is advised. It is advice that one could just as easily tack onto Nightcrawler, a jet black comic character study that combs the dark
underbelly of the American dream.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an aspiring freelance video journalist who stalks the city at night armed with a police scanner and camcorder, eager to capture visceral footage of car crashes, shootings, and other violent crimes that he can then sell on to the news networks in time for breakfast. As the focal point of the film, we see the aptly named Bloom grow in a field in which success necessitates the continual plumbing of morally ambiguous depths. A Faustian pact made with Nina, a struggling news director (Rene Russo) gives the emotionally vapid Bloom a sense of purpose, and his sociopathy quickly becomes his greatest asset in the quest for prosperity.
It is no exaggeration to say that the efficacy of Nightcrawler rests almost completely on the back of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance – to date it is his most entrancing role and in all likeliehood will see him nominated for an Oscar next year. Thin and drawn, Gyllenhaal has created an antihero that will haunt you long after you leave the screen. Bloom is the uncomfortable embodiment of all that ails Western culture – obsessed with success above all else, he spurts incessant gems of consumerist idealism that echo the founding myth of America: that those who work hard will be justly rewarded.With a dogged determination and a scalpel-like focus, Bloom obsessively manipulates his way up the rungs with no regard to those he steps on along the way.
Beautifully capturing a lesser seen side of Los Angeles, Nightcrawler is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who also provided the script. While it may be his first jaunt in the director’s chair, Gilroy is a well-established storyteller, with writing credits for The Bourne Legacy (directed by his brother Tony Gilroy) and The Fall, amongst others. Gilroy’s previous experience shines through on Nightcrawler, where he comfortably proves that he is more than capable of weaving an engaging and original film that is not afraid to jump into some weighty themes. Every character in Nightcrawler is desperate for success, consumed with a vampiric lust that renders them unable to consider whether the object of their desire is authentic. A none-too-subtle swipe is aimed at the industry and audience that perpetuates the kind of news that dominates so many channels – Russo’s character wants stories of affluent Caucasians attacked by minorities, she wants the stories where the middle-classes feel threatened in their own homes: ‘think of our newscast a screaming woman running down the road with her throat cut’ she instructs with a certain amount of delectation.
What may be surprising to hear is that despite the thematic gravity of Nightcrawler, it is an incredibly funny film. Gyllenhaal’s ghoulish tenacity to succeed at all odds leads to some outlandish and darkly comic moments, especially in his competition with a more established rival (Bill Paxton). While the absurdity of the situation is humorous, the reality of it is terrifying, and it is this blend of
simultaneous disparate feelings that gives the film its incredibly unique mood – Nightcrawler is a superb and chilling movie that will make you want to reach out and squeeze the hand of someone
you care about, and may irredeemably alter your morning ritual.