Trying to make a name for yourself in today’s world is no easy task, but with a positive attitude and willingness to explore new opportunities there’s really nothing you can’t accomplish. Take Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom for example. Once little more than a hard working thief stealing construction materials in the night, Bloom would discover his calling after happening across a “nightcrawler” trying to film a car-wreck to sell the footage to news organisations. The very next day he would get a camera, introduce himself to a local TV station, and dedicate his days learning to profit from the various crimes and emergencies plaguing L.A.
Before long, Bloom would learn creating news was more profitable than reporting on it, and that being first on the scene often meant setting one. With this fresh approach to journalism, strong determination, and a willingness to take risks, cross “ethical” boundaries and manipulate his peers, Bloom would soon set about building his own production company and become an overnight success story in the world of crime journalism. Bloom’s story proves that with a little stick-to-it-ness and complete moral bankruptcy, dreams really can come true.
Two parts character study and one part social commentary, first-time director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is an absolute thrill ride. It’s darkly comic, full of energy, and somehow maintains the unflinchingly optimistic perspective of a self-help manual while being utterly pessimistic about the news industry and world in general. Nightcrawler’s warped take on the American dream is extremely entertaining, but in truth hasn’t really got much to say beyond the initial concept, and is unlikely to convince anyone that things are any worse than they may suspect. But while the core message dangers on redundant, you’ll find it hard to care given all of Nightcrawler’s perverse fun and the fascinating creation that is Lou Bloom.
Bloom’s unwavering confidence in his misappropriated beliefs and dangerous allure remind you of the goosebumps you felt the first time you discovered Fight Club’s Tyler Durden. Philosophically however, Nightcrawler’s main man is almost the polar opposite of Brad Pitt’s iconic character. Bloom worships the capitalistic pursuit and possesses an infectious enthusiasm for self-improvement and career building. With wide-eyed ideals rivalled only by his utter disdain for humanity and societal norms, Bloom is a predator perfectly evolved to devour competition and revel in a harsh and unforgiving economic landscape.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more charismatic lead than Gyllenhaal this year. Captivating and complex as he is, Gyllenhaal presents Bloom with transparency and vigour. Within minutes of meeting him, you instantly understand Bloom and his frightening take on a can-do attitude. With a sense you’ve known him for years, you can see what’s in store as soon as Bloom stumbles across the journalistic world, enjoying an immediate and guilty thrill at imagining him unleashed in a new environment. Gyllenhaal lays on thick the charm, crucial to the likability of such a calculating and monstrous character, consequently making him all the more chilling in the moments he is able to casually remind the audience of just how dangerous he really is.
As is perhaps to be expected with a lead this seemingly infallible, Nightcrawler’s supporting cast, while not necessarily forgettable, exist primarily in service to Bloom. Bill Paxton does his thing as the cocky veteran that introduces Bloom to nightcrawling, and provides some fun beats as he transitions from treating Bloom as a joke to recognising him as a legitimate threat. Riz Ahmed proves to be the most realised member of the supporting cast as Bloom’s “intern” Rick, who by simple proximity is given the closest view of Bloom’s true colours. Whenever he is able to summon the courage, Rick tries (in vain) to act as a voice of reason to Bloom’s craziness, but is ultimately too desperate for work and susceptible to Bloom’s unrelenting salesmanship to question him for long.
For the most part the extended cast are guilty only of not shining quite as brightly as Gyllenhaal, but Rene Russo’s Nina (Bloom’s contact at the news station, who purchases his footage) feels poorly drawn in comparison – a mechanism of the script more than a character in her own right. Russo herself turns in a fine performance, capturing brilliantly the struggle for dominance in her professional relationship with Bloom and her fear that this may be her last chance to make a name in journalism. The problem is Nina’s character seems to alternate between a powerless victim of Bloom, an equally menacing ally or a mentoring figure. The complex nature of their relationship is such that there is room to move between these three roles, but they are never in harmony, just different costumes to wear depending on what fits a particular scene best.
Sadly, Nina is indicative of a larger issue in Nightcrawler. Gilroy (who also penned the script) can’t seem to decide whether Bloom is a corrupting force within the journalistic world, or representative of the systemic evils of for-profit news. It becomes unclear whether the suspense should be coming from people discovering his methods, or from him letting them down by not going far enough. There is a valid argument to make that Bloom represents a natural extension of the current news media and acts as a cautionary tale. But by aligning the goals and morality of the news media with Bloom’s, it’s deflated as an antagonistic force and winds up robbing the film of any legitimate stakes. Don’t get me wrong, Nightcrawler’s final set-piece glimpsed in the trailers is a blast and watching Bloom make cops and criminals alike his playthings is incredibly satisfying. But for all the chaos erupting around the place, there is never a second you’re not certain Bloom is walking away a winner.
Dramatic shortcomings aside, it’s hard to imagine anyone leaving Nightcrawler without wearing a guilty grin. While there may not be many surprises, Nightcrawler never once slows down, escalating steadily and organically toward its big finale. The wit of Gilroy’s wicked dialogue and Gyllenhaal’s cheerful delivery are a wonderful marriage, creating one of the most lovable sociopaths in modern movie memory. Add to that the film’s playful scene structure and twisted comedy and Nightcrawler is an absolute must-see.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10