I saw Nightcrawler three days ago and I still don’t know what to think. I do know it’s fantastic filmmaking, and an audacious commentary on what TV journalism consists of today. It also has one of the great horrible-person protagonists of recent memory. Many have compared Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom to Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin, but Bloom may even be more sociopathic.
We don’t know much about Bloom. When the film begins he steals scrap metal. He happens to drive by a car accident and is fascinated by the video crew that pulls up, led by Bill Paxton. He learns that the crews are free-lance, and sell their footage to the highest bidder. We also hear the shop-worn phrase, “If it bleeds it leads.” Essentially, these guys are paparazzi, but their targets are anything that produces blood and human misery, whether they be auto accidents, plane crashes, or murders.
Bloom, who may have some sort of autism, is able to spout paragraph upon paragraph of self-help blather he’s learned on the Internet, usually in a semi-robotic fashion. He starts off with a simple camera and no idea what he’s doing, but he manages to get some decent footage of a carjacking victim and sells it to the lowest rated news station in L.A.. The news director is Rene Russo, who is on the hot seat, and though the footage is graphic, she leads with it.
Bloom ends up hiring an assistant (Riz Ahmed), a homeless guy who will anything for money. The relationship between these two is one of the strongest things about the movie (written and directed by Dan Gilroy). Ahmed sorts of knows Bloom is crazy, but sticks with him, while Bloom constantly berates Ahmed, but then turns around and praises him. It’s sort of like he thinks Ahmed is a dog.
Eventually Bloom becomes a success, with state of the art equipment and a new car. He turns down Paxton’s offer of going partners. In one of the most disturbing scenes of the movie, Gyllenhaal takes Russo out on a date, and tells her that unless she has sex with him, he will take his footage elsewhere, risking her job.
There are no ethics to be found in Nightcrawler, and for that reason this film is certainly not for everyone. Bloom is a very creepy character. First he moves accident victims for a better shot, and then, on a home invasion when he gets there before the police, withholds evidence so he can end up reaping the benefit. You may want to shower after the film, but you won’t forget it easily.
Nightcrawler benefits from excellent night-time L.A. photography by Robert Elswit that reminded me a lot of Collateral. The opening shot is of a blank billboard, and then the moon hanging over the mountains, which was instantly grabbing. I also liked the percussive score by James Newton Howard.
But this film belongs to Gyllenhaal. His portrait of a man with no empathy is truly scary and unnerving. He may or may not be nominated or an Oscar, but it is without doubt one of the best performances of the year.
My grade for Nightcrawler: A-.