Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief, selling stolen fence wire and manhole covers to make money. When he witnesses a horrific car crash and the freelance film crew hovering around the scene, Bloom is inspired to start his own news crew business, tuning into the police radio and being first at the scene to record all the news worthy crimes and accidents: stabbings, home invasions, mass pile-ups. Selling his footage to the local morning news, the station’s editor (Rene Russo) demands more shocking, attention-grabbing stories, forcing Bloom to go to any lengths to cover the stories that will have wealthy, middle class America talking.
Screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a mishmash of satire, comedy, and pulse-pounding thrills, with Gyllenhaal giving his best screen performance thus far. Gilroy has come up with a lead who will be looked on as one of the decade’s most memorable antiheroes. Bloom admits he never did well at school, but he studies articles and pours over videos on the internet. His dialogue is straight out of a business studies textbook; impressive words that, when you pick them apart, don’t mean anything. This isn’t a man who wants to be successful in the traditional sense – flash car, a pot of money that never runs out – he wants to run a business where he’s at the top of the ladder, with people below him, telling them what to do.
You’ll be surprised just how much you’ll laugh whilst watching Nightcrawler; a fifty-fifty split between brilliantly funny set pieces as the socially awkward, initially clueless Bloom blunders his way round crime scenes, shoving his camera in the face of witnesses and police officers, and nervous laughter, struggling to believe that Bloom and the TV station can get away with their morally bankrupt ideas as to what counts as news; the more grotesque and intrusive the footage, the higher the viewing figures. As Russo explains, politics, world news, current affairs makes up less than thirty seconds of their news summary, while five minutes is spent on “rich white folks getting killed by poor minorities.”
Gilroy’s script is a near-perfect character driven piece, which Gyllenhaal more than makes the most of. Wide eyed, barely blinking and stick-thin, his dialogue cold and detached; he’s saying one thing but thinking five steps ahead. You know there is something wrong with Bloom, but we’re never told what. Gyllenhaal keeps you guessing as to what’s going on inside his head, wondering how low he can sink so he can get his hands on some ratings-grabbing footage. This is a performance up there with Brando, De Niro or Pacino at the peak of their careers; Gyllenhaal is that stunning to watch.
The supporting cast all give performances you can’t fault. It’s hard to tell whose worse, Bloom or Russo’s editor, Nina. The TV station is under pressure with its falling ratings, Nina knowing she has a month to save her job. All she thinks about is whether the footage breaks any laws, never showing sympathy or concern for the victims or families. During one of many stand-out scenes, the news anchors are commentating on Bloom’s footage from a crime scene. Nina talks to the anchors through their ear pieces, telling them word-for-word what to say; she’s not interested in the facts, only in shocking and scaring the viewers. Four Lions’ Riz Ahmed is given another great role as Bloom’s skittish right-hand man and conscience, Rick. Rick is desperate for money and takes on the job as Bloom’s assistant, listening in to the police radio, giving directions, and filming. From the outset, Rick isn’t comfortable with his job, firing questions at Bloom that the viewer is thinking. When Bloom tampers with and breaks in to crime scenes, Rick wants out, but stays because he has no other job.
The only issue with Nightcrawler that stops it being flawless is its ending, or lack of it. Like the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men, the film just stops. There is no tie up all the loose ends, wrap things up conclusion. You get the feeling that’s the point, Gilroy’s casting a judging eye on these materialistic, technology-obsessed times, where it’s increasingly difficult to get the facts about a news story instead of some misconstrued details. There’s no satisfying, happy ending here. This doesn’t ruin Nightcrawler, and it’s certainly not as jarring as the Coen’s film, but in the screening I watched, there was this this reaction of “Huh?” when the credits appeared. That aside, Nightcrawler is gripping, entertaining and mercilessly satirical; Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is a character who will be compared to the likes of De Niro’s Travis Bickle or Dustin Hoffman’s Ratso. Slick, smart and nightmarish stuff.
4 out of 5