After watching Nightcrawler you’ll never look at local TV news coverage the same way again.
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, the deliciously dark Nightcrawler tells the story of Louis Bloom, a young man with questionable morals and high aspirations—a potent mix that helps him blossom as a freelance videographer capturing the mayhem that happens in the wee hours of the morning in Los Angeles.
Jake Gyllenhaal is Bloom and his performance is mesmerizing. The entire movie would not have worked if Gyllenhaal wasn’t so captivating to watch. He has played dark characters before, such as the title character in the cult classic Donnie Darko, and his film choices of late have certainly veered toward the more serious. For Nightcrawler Gyllenhaal transformed himself for the role, losing just enough weight to make his face more gaunt and angular. The effect creates a darkness to his expressions that fits the role beautifully.
Gyllenhaal is aided by a small and equally talented cast. Rene Russo is Nina—a tough-as-nails news director at a struggling local news station—who helps Louis as he grows increasingly better at bringing her the kind of footage that attract viewers—graphic, but not too bloody. Ideally it’s anything that creates an atmosphere of fear for those living in the suburbs who are worried about violent crime seeping into their neighborhood.
Russo looks incredible for her age, but the actress seems to have made a conscious choice in Nightcrawler to mask her looks with gobs of dark eye shadow and thick makeup. She actually looks older in the movie, which was a smart choice for the actress, as it gives more realism to her character.
Bill Paxton is Joe Loder, a veteran of the business Louis is pushing his way into, who mistakenly gets in the way of Louis’ plan. Riz Ahmed is Rick, Louis’ nervous, underpaid assistant, who is the film’s only character with a conscious.
Working as “nightcrawlers,” Louis and Rick drive aimlessly around the city waiting for just the right call over the police scanner that will send them speeding to the next accident or crime scene. As they zip from one end of the city to another, Los Angeles itself becomes a character in the film.
Cinematographer Robert Elswit conveys the vastness and stillness of the city, which oddly makes it comes across as harsh and unforgiving. There is no glamour or sexiness here, just cold, grey emptiness punctuated by flashing red lights and the piercing cries of police sirens.
In interviews Gyllenhaal has said repeatedly that Gilroy’s script was the sole inspiration for his portrayal of Louis. It’s a sharply written screenplay that doesn’t tell the audience how to judge its characters. Nor does it waste time tackling any deep commentary on media.
As the movie progresses it’s hard to know who is behaving more like a sociopath, Louis or Nina? They both seem to driven by a need for success at any cost and neither is concerned with who gets hurt along the way. Nina just happens to behave in a way that is more socially acceptable whereas Louis is definitely off in some way. Though their methods may be questionable, in the end it’s just a job for both of them.
Nightcrawler is an intelligent film that uses the pacing of a thriller to keep the audience engaged while also enlightening viewers on the ways media distorts news for its own cause.