The titular ‘nightcrawler’ Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is everything that is wrong with the media, capitalism, and the American Dream. He’s a manifestation of the negative aspects of all those things. He’s what a person would turn out like if they learned about the world through tabloid newspapers and materialistic American Dream type mumbo jumbo. A perfect capitalist. He’s devoid of human empathy and emotion. He’s a multinational billion dollar corporation’s mindset incarnate, which is as scary as it is deadly.
Nightcrawler tracks Lou’s steady transformation from petty scrap metal thief to minor mogul of his very own company Video Production News. His self-help style vernacular and complete lack of compassion for anyone else sees him blackmail and deceive his way to the top.
The opening shot of the film is a blank billboard at the side of the road at night time, we see the moon shining over the sparsely populated LA night skyline in which Lou prowls. A viscous encounter between Lou and a security guard sets up both his character’s lack of empathy for others, and his unwavering determination to succeed. He’s money orientated and a deft negotiator, but seems content to live a meagre existence in a one bedroom flat whilst splashing out on a fancy car and expensive video production gadgets. He’s an outer shell of a human being, he looks and sounds like a person, sometimes even a nice person, but having taken all his knowledge from television and the internet has made him into an unethical machine completely devoid of empathy.
Jake Gyllenhaal provides his best performance to date as the maniacal Louis Bloom. His gaunt face and staccato speech give him an unworldly presence, and moments of intense emotion are pitch perfect, this is to the testament of both Gyllenhaal and Dan Gilroy (in his directing debut). Gilroy’s wife Rene Russo is equally excellent as the mostly but not completely sociopathic news editor Nina Romina, whom spurs Lou on to capture bloodier and wealthier victims.
Almost every scene in the film is at night, and the few daytime scenes stay inside Lou’s little flat. This stands to serve several purposes to the film. It suits the protagonist who represents the sinister underbelly of both the mass media and the American Dream. Lou’s underhanded tactics and sociopathic tendencies go largely unnoticed in the night, and only in dark and intimate one-on-ones does his emotional and physical blackmailing ensue. Along with both this, and the obvious mood enhancing benefits of darkness and stark lighting that Robert Elswit’s (Jake Gyllenhaal’s Godfather) beautiful night time cinematography provides, it also means the audience is shrouded in darkness for almost the entire film. It’s easy to forget there are others sitting around you, it isn’t a communal experience. It’s you and Lou, together, alone. There are no reminders that you are in a cinema. The story is relentless and tireless, like Louis it never takes a break from achieving its goals. Nightcrawler is a low budget, independent family affair, and it feels like it. It doesn’t feel cheap, but free from constraints; an accomplished realisation.
Lou isn’t just scary because he’s a ruthlessly violent and manipulative sociopath, he’s scary because of what he represents. If Lou is conspicuously terrifying in a very real sense, what he represents is also a very real kind of terrifying, only it’s treacherously inconspicuous, covered with a glossy tag-lines like the ‘American Dream’ or the ‘pursuit of happiness’. As Nietzsche said, “In individuals insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.” With Nightcrawler, director Dan Gilroy applies the ruthlessness of the thinking behind mass media, big businesses and capitalist nations and applies it to an individual in order to visibly display the lack of ethical consideration. The result is intelligent, thought provoking, and terrifying.
Nightcrawler, directed by Dan Gilroy, is released in UK cinema by Entertainment One, Certificate 15.