“I’d like to think if you’re seeing me you’re having the worst day of your life.”
So says Louis Bloom, the anti-hero of writer/director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. The film is a pitch-black, often satirically so, look at the bloodlust that engulfs local news. Its parallels with reality are only slightly blurred, allowing the viewer to look on as a horrified witness. Headlined by career best work from Jake Gyllenhaal, Nightcrawler is one of the darker and craftier thrillers to come along in quite awhile.
As the film opens, Bloom (Gyllenhaal), is down on his luck and having trouble finding work. He’s a driven worker and a fast learner, as he puts it. On the way home one night he spots a car accident on the side of the road. Police and medics surround an injured person as an opportunistic “stringer,” Joe Loder (Paxton), captures the whole thing on camera. Loder’s job: sell the footage to the highest bidder in the local news market. Entranced by the possibilities, Louis pawns a camera and a police scanner. With the help of an assistant, Rick (Ahmed), and a bloodthirsty news director, Nina (Russo), desperate to raise ratings, Bloom scours the city for the grisliest footage he can get.
Gilroy’s script has plenty to say about contemporary news reporting and biases. The ultimate “get” for Bloom is a homicide in an upscale neighborhood committed by minorities. It’s the way that Gilroy slyly works this in to an otherwise chilling tale about a sociopath that makes Nightcrawler so effective. Bloom sees no problem with doing whatever it takes – re-arranging crime scenes and molding what actually happened into its most compelling version – to obtain his footage. He views it as his job. Nina and everyone around him, save for the level-headed Rick, enable his behavior in the name of ratings and the public’s yearning for the most gruesome footage allowed on TV. The film does run a bit astray with the notion that network news would air shot and bloodied bodies with the faces pixelated, but then again, who knows. There’s always room to sink lower. The final third of the film involves a rapidly-devolving situation after Bloom arrives at the scene of a triple homicide before police and films the deceased and the killers. As his morals and decency completely erode, Bloom looks to exploit the footage as much as possible.
Jake Gyllenhaal, twenty pounds lighter than usual, completely transforms into the mousy, ever-confident Bloom. Barely blinking and increasingly off-kilter, Gyllenhaal has crafted one of the more memorable cinematic sociopaths of recent history. Russo, making just her third appearance since 2005, is coldly effective as Nina. Her bond with Louis, which he would prefer be romantic, adds additional intrigue. Bill Paxton, as Louis’s chief rival, and Riz Ahmed, as Bloom’s apprehensive partner, both turn in fine supporting work.
Sly, dark, and macabre, Nightcrawler is an exceptional example of social commentary done right. It has a bitingly satirical edge that pokes through the Los Angeles night regularly. Tightly written and beautifully photographed by Gilroy and ace cinematographer Robert Elswit, Nightcrawler is one of the year’s finest thrillers.
Studio: Open Road Films
Length: 117 Minutes
Rating: R for violence including graphic images, and for language.
Theatrical Release: October 31, 2014
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Eric Lange, Riz Ahmed