For all the movie psychopaths that this Halloween season has brought us, let it be known that none are more creepy than Louis Bloom.
Ever the entrepreneur, Nightcrawler is a dark tour through Lou’s foray into the world of freelance crime journalism. A small time thief selling stolen scrap metal in Los Angeles, Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the sort of guy who seems to have read one too many monster.com articles. He’s a walking collection of self-help quotes desperate to work his way into something, whatever it may be.
On his way home one night, he happens upon a bloody accident. There he finds a few men with cameras – nicknamed nightcrawlers (by themselves) – scampering to get some footage they can sell to the local news. Lou is intrigued, so he buys a camera and a police scanner and starts spending his nights chasing after shootings and car accidents. Anything with a few gruesome details.
And it turns out the unflinching Lou is quite good at what he does. Before long he’s sold his first piece to Nina (Rene Russo), the news director at a local TV station, and added an intern (Rick played by Kevin Rahm) to his roster.
Gyllenhaal is at the absolute top of his game here, taking the misunderstood awkwardness he demonstrated so memorably in his breakout role as Donnie Darko and turning it into something absolutely chilling. There’s an air of naivety to Lou, but right from the first scene we know he is much more dangerous than that “aw shucks” grin would suggest.
It’s that lion in sheep’s clothing mentality that gives Nightcrawler most of its thrills. Gyllenhaal gives absolutely nothing away with Lou and there’s something particularly disconcerting about the fact that you’re never quite sure what’s going on between those big blue eyes. Especially as Lou ventures away from simply recording the news (which is horrifying enough) into making it himself.
Indeed, Lou – a fairly unconventional protagonist if you can call him that at all – is so chilling that at one point in the film I was just praying the knock at the door would be a detective played by a big enough movie star that I could rightly expect them to stick around long enough to catch Lou for what he is. For the sake of your own discovery, I won’t tell you if they were or not…
Either way, Gyllenhaal gives one of the most unsettling depictions of a psychopath I’ve seen on the big screen in a long, long while. Hannibal Lector for instance was a scary guy, but at least you knew where he stood – he’s going to try to eat you. There’s no telling how far Louis Bloom will go to get what he wants and it’s the wondering that gets you.
But like I said in the lead, there are plenty of movie psychopaths out there. Perhaps the reason this one works so well – aside from Gyllenhaal’s performance – is that in these days of a camera on every phone and the non-stop recording of all of life’s events, the total lack of empathy involved in filming the misery of others for financial gain doesn’t feel all that far from the truth. It feels like the 11 o’clock news.
In fact, the thematic brilliance of Nightcrawler lies in the fact that whatever morose thrill the audience might find in Lou’s work immediately turns the lens right back on them. You may scoff at what these nightcrawlers do, but that desire for every gory detail is what signs their pay cheques.
It’s a biting satire of both the news media and corporate America. Isn’t Nina’s explanation of news that sells – urban crime spreading into suburban neighborhoods – the sort of manufactured narrative that is everything that’s wrong with journalism right now?
Then there’s Lou, whose corporate ramblings (my personal favourite being his penchant for internships) aren’t anything you wouldn’t hear outside of a boardroom or business school. The sort of egotistical nonsense spouted out by wannabe executives as they act like they’re solving problems and doing you a favour. Yet there’s never any doubt what Lou’s motives are – he’s completely self-serving – which cleverly turns it all on its head.
Nightcrawler probably isn’t for everyone – for one thing there’s a deciding lack of anyone to root for – but its disturbing thrills, capped by a tour de force performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, should have most leaving satisfied, if not a little skeeved out.
Final Score: 4.5/5