Nightcrawler review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is a twisted journey of one man’s ascension into a world of scum. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a desperate and devious individual smart enough to cheat the system for some cash. If he had a better sense of morality, he could become a legitimate success, but the seedy world of invasive crime scene photography was just far too glamorous. Strolling past a car crash with a cameraman poking his lense into the faces of the victims and paramedics, he knows at that exact moment what he wants to do with his life. Absolutely nothing will stop him in his quest for news footage fame no matter the cost fiscally, legally or morally.
Lou wastes no time researching a means of entering into the news capturing industry. He quickly pawns some stolen merchandise to acquire a camera and police scanner to get in on the action. He faces some stiff competition with a veteran of filming violence for the news played by Bill Paxton. Learning the limitations of the game, Lou begins making calculated and efficient moves to become the top dog of selling videos. He hires an intern with GPS so that he can focus on speedily getting to the crime scenes first. He slowly starts negotiating his fees with the station until it appears as though Lou is running a legitimate video production company. But with his competition having multiple cars and better equipment, Lou ends up taking a less legal route of shooting more exclusives. He sneaks into crime scenes, tracks down leads on potential criminals and keeps crucial evidence from the police so that he can arrive at an incident before it even happens.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives a frighteningly effective performance as an analytical madman. This is a man who knows exactly what he wants and hardly ever lets emotions get in the way or even show them. At one point he attempts to sexually pursue a news station director, but doesn’t even waste time trying to woo her with romantic words. He wants to sleep with this woman and literally attempts to negotiates his way into the relationship as if it were a business transaction. The few times we actually see him show some signs of humanity is when he becomes overly frustrated with his intern or starts slipping in his work. In a private moment, he screams in his bathroom mirror and smashes it to pieces. Later on when Bill Paxton’s character tries to coax the up-and-coming cameraman into joining his crew, Lou calmly states how he wants to beat down this man for bothering him with such a prospect. Lou has the calm face for people of the lunatic that dwells within.
What’s even more shocking than Lou’s behavior is how he’s actually one step ahead of other smarmy individuals. The world he delves into is filled with directors who will put anything on television for ratings, cameramen who will chew each other out like dogs and pushy investigators who watch the news people like hawks. And Lou has the brains to play every single one of them like a fiddle. He knows every trick in the book to get what he wants and narrowly avoids being prosecuted with every dangerous turn he takes. His timing is incredible as he seems to know when to start calling the shots on his fees, when to call the cops and when to conceal evidence.
The final thrill of Nightcrawler isn’t the expected conclusion that the character dies by his own sword, but that he actually gets away with it all. Every lie, deception and immoral choice he makes is crafted just finely enough so that it won’t come back to bite him. What’s so striking about this performance is that Gyllenhaal’s character never displays the fear of his very dangerous job. He witnesses first hand that those involved with this scene can easily be injured or murdered in the line of duty. At which point, you are fair game for another cameraman to get in your dying face. Even after witnessing this twice with people he knew, Lou continues his sleazy methods to get the best and bloodiest footage on television.
This type of character may face a horrible death in the future relating to his business, but he’s intelligent enough to survive longer than most intriguing movie-centric villains that rise and fall. This is a film all about the rise with no bloody shootout or going down in flames. We’ve seen that story before, but I’ve never seen a movie this intriguing that has enough faith to let the bad guy get away with his deeds. In a strange way, you want to see him succeed because he’s just so darn good at manipulating others. This is one of Gyllenhaal’s best performances of his career and certainly one of the most mesmerizing movies of the year.