Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
When we first meet Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhall), he’s stealing salvageable scrap from a construction site and overcoming (perhaps fatally) a security guard in the process. It’s about the least objectionable thing we see Lou, the amoral centre of Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, do.
An ambitious, autodidactic sociopath with little in the way of marketable skills, Lou sees a chance for advancement when he stumbles into the world of freelance crime reporting. Armed with a second hand video camera and a cheap police scanner, he begins to learn the trade, selling footage of violent crimes and accidents to low-rung news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) and butting heads with rival “nightcrawler,” Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). In an industry where, as the old axiom goes, if it bleeds it leads and violent crimes in wealthy white neighbourhoods are the most lucrative scores, Lou’s seemingly complete lack of empathy is an advantage, but how far is he willing to go to secure his newfound success?
This is a jet-black slice of LA noir, feeling like nothing so much as a lost Jim Thompson novel. The world of Nightcrawler is one where everyone is complicit in crime and more than willing to profit from venality, be it the more recognisable felons who commit robbery and murder to the unregulated roving camera crews who film the bloody aftermath. While Lou may be our protagonist, he is not our hero – there are no heroes here, only victims and victors.
The film is anchored by an incredible performance from Gyllenhaal. As embodied by him, Lou Bloom is an unforgettable creature: mannered, awkward, unblinking and ill at ease, he barely comes across as human, seeming more like an insect wearing a human skin or an alien sent to infiltrate us. It’s impossible to empathise with Lou – please, God, let that be true – but it’s just as impossible not to be enthralled by his journey as we learn that there is nothing he won’t do, no line he won’t cross, in his quest to master his chosen profession. Gyllenhall never makes Lou likeable – that’s never the aim here – but he does make him fascinating.
Nightcrawler works because it cleaves ruthlessly and completely to its thesis that the world is, at base, morally bankrupt and wholly corrupt. It’s a gleefully misanthropic piece of cinema, more disturbing than any number of gore-soaked horror movies and more entertaining than most of the other cinematic offerings this year. It’s also a film that, by its very nature, may alienate a large swathe of its potential audience, so make sure to seek it out before it disappears – this one’s a dark gem.