Nightcrawler March 15, 2015
“Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,” morning news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) says to Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). Nina is concerned with ratings, not morality lessons; if something bleeds, it leads, she explains.
Lou is a newly freelance cameraman who specializes in filming things like car crashes and explosive tragedies. But something about Lou is off. He’s noticeably underweight, creepily twitchy; his smile resembles one the murderous Norman Bates might flash post-kill.
When Lou tells Nina that he “understands” what she's saying, it’s clear that he doesn’t understand it in the same way a person would understand the emotions pouring out of their best friend following a bruising break-up. Lou’s brain turns on a setting that could only be likened to that of a futuristic robot being programmed to kill. If a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut could evolve into a headline, what's wrong with making it happen yourself?
When we first meet Lou, he's stealing scrap metal from a construction site, hoping to pick up some extra green for his possessions. He scrounges with the determination of a hungry sewer rat, but when he later attempts to make a deal, he musters up enough charm to make himself look less desperate than a wannabe car salesman. We surmise that Lou has been a bottom-feeder for his entire life, waiting for his next big opportunity to arise. When he randomly catches a glimpse of a crime-scene photographer running around a grisly situation, he latches onto the idea of making that profession his own. There is a thrill to it, yes, but perhaps Lou knows he has the remorseless drive necessary to go a step further.
Like the Travis Bickles and Patrick Batemans before him, Lou is foul, but he’s captivatingly so. He's detached from humanity, almost watching it from afar. Gyllenhaal has long been confined to the dangerous “talented young actor” space, but in Nightcrawler, he pulls a fast-one and aims to get himself in the “one of the finest actors working today” category. His performance as Lou is transformative, and, down the road, may be looked at as a career-best moment. The character is diabolical enough to potentially be lifted up into camp territory, but Gyllenhaal inhabits Lou’s diabolical psyche with frightening vigor.
Nightcrawler is among 2014’s best films, but it isn’t just a thriller with a wide-eyed snake as its Brando. It’s also a scathing social commentary, fixated on the frenzy of news broadcasting. It’s a little Network and a little Broadcast News, but something darker than satirical comedy seems to be acting as its ammo. Nightcrawler is Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, but it's a movie made with unusual self-assurance. It's a film that refuses to allow you to sit passively. A