“Nightcrawler,” written and directed by Dan Gilroy, is a tense and scathing criticism of the unstoppable and emotionally detached coverage of violence in today’s media. The difficult lead role, Louis Bloom, is portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal and offers a perfect challenge for an actor at this point in his career. The film is unable to accomplish many of its ambitious technical goals, but Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse delivery helps balance much of that to make this a worthwhile film.
“Nightcrawler” opens with showing Louis Bloom as a comical fence thief. He grinds away at his work, plying away at the wiring to tear the fence apart and sell it. Immediately, we’re introduced to a meticulous and hard-working man who will do whatever it takes to help his own cause.
Bent on making a name for himself, Bloom penetrates the underground world of freelance videography and crime journalism. He spends the rest of the film chasing blood and crime in Los Angeles that he can capture on tape.
As his business ramps up, he hires Rick (Riz Ahmed) to help out with a second camera. Bloom pays Rick pennies for his help and never forgets to remind him what a fantastic career opportunity their work is. Bloom does nothing but exploit his partner and crush his spirit as they progressively cross greater and greater moral boundaries in pursuit of “the story” and Louis’ personal success.
In order to grow his brand, Bloom takes advantage of the news-station anchor to whom he sells his material, Nina (Rene Russo). He strong-arms her into deals and decisions she’d be unwilling to take if she was less reliant on his material. The gruesome nature of Bloom’s videos is exactly what Nina wants to draw her audience in. Her concerns about these images are never ethical, only fiscal and legal. The media members in “Nightcrawler,” like Louis and Nina, will stop at nothing to exploit crimes for the sake of ratings.
The film is layered with complexity as the main character is placed directly into the relentless media business which he metaphorically mirrors with his own instability. The intricacy with which this tangle of motives and themes is played out is a testament to Dan Gilroy’s writing, which shines here against his previous endeavors such as “Real Steel” and “The Bourne Legacy.”
While truly successful in establishing the characters and the surroundings necessary for “Nightcrawler”’s chilling vibe, the plot is rather predictable. Gilroy seems to have improved in his ability to create an emotional feel in his creations, but his actual story is still rather underwhelming.
Composed by James Newton Howard, the film’s electronic score perfectly accentuates Gilroy’s underground L.A. crime scenery. On the other hand, little else in the production seems to remind viewers of this darkness. While the main character, the plot and the music all perpetuate this aura, there isn’t much in the film’s shots or sets that serves to reinforce this.
In large part, the simplicity of the plot paired with the film’s mostly underwhelming production means that the film’s entertainment essentially comes from the character study of Louis Bloom. It is here that Gilroy and Gyllenhaal truly deliver. Bloom is an anti-social and manipulative sociopath looking to make his way in the world. He is always direct with his expectations and demands, exuding a sense of control over both those around him and the audience. At the same time, Bloom can only take over because he is impressively smart. Perseverance and the internet teach Bloom a great deal. Bloom’s intellect, emotional detachment and his force make him a scary person to imagine — especially when steeped in a world of crime.
Jake Gyllenhaal is exactly the person for this role. From “Donnie Darko” to “Zodiac,” he has perfected the craft of playing obsessive and antisocial characters. It is rare to see such clear linear progress from film to film, but Gyllenhaal truly delivers a stellar performance in this one. Wide-eyed and wiry, Louis Bloom sends tingles down the spine every time he smiles or even speaks. Talented actors find it easy to emulate fictionally constructed emotions, but Bloom is difficult precisely because his emotions are fake and practiced. So, Gyllenhaal has to convince the audience that it is not he who is faking his emotions. That’s quite a difficult balance, but he pulls it off brilliantly.
With such a wild over-the-top character placed in such an extreme, ruthless media setting, the film delivers a harsh satire of contemporary news culture. There’s no stopping Louis Bloom and the local station from catching the next bloody shot — no matter what the cost or moral implications. “Nightcrawler” is without a doubt thought-provoking and intense. But, its message is also simple, causing the film to quickly exhaust what it has to say. You may glance at your watch about halfway through, but “Nightcrawler” is worth the watch — at the very least to admire Jake Gyllenhaal’s stellar performance.