Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is talented. He’s not exactly sure what at but he knows he possesses the necessary work ethic and attention to detail to be special at something. He just needs to find it.
One night driving home he witnesses a car crash being filmed by an amateur team of freelance journalists and his interest is immediately piqued. The next day he buys a cheap camcorder and radio scanner and quickly discovers a proclivity for the underground world of video crime journalism.
Make no mistake, this is Gyllenhaal’s film. Everybody else operates under the large shadow cast by Gyllenhaal’s absorbing portrayal of a deeply unhinged individual – who is at once intelligent, arrogant, charming, manipulative, intimidating. All of the qualities of a clinical sociopath are demonstrated in gradual intensity as the film progresses.
His simpering smiles belie a blankness, a callousness imbedded deep in his large, unblinking eyes as he spouts regurgitated motivational management rhetoric to anyone who will give him five-seconds. He is the monstrous, unsettling result of the American Dream. His lack of nomination for Best Actor at the Oscars only illustrates how irrelevant it is.
Nightcrawler isn’t just an intense character study. As unsubtle as it may be in execution, the film is a satire on the blood-lust nature of the media and the people who shamelessly consume it. ‘If it bleeds it leads,’ is the mantra of Nina Romina (brilliantly portrayed by Rene Russo) as she encourages Bloom to seek out bloodier and more controversial footage which leads to inevitable disaster.
Bloom begins to alter crime and accident scenes to fabricate better stories to sell for more money and, most importantly, more recognition. The first instance is a genuine shocker as Bloom drags a body to a different part of the crash to provide a more interesting frame for his money shot.
That unfortunately leads on to my biggest issue with Nightcrawler: the presentation. The film has a clean, mechanical look to it – Los Angeles shimmers and shines appealingly under the moonlight. But for a film indulging itself in the unpleasantries of crime journalism, I believe a grittier, dirtier aesthetic would have suited the tone of the film better (see: Taxi Driver).
The soundtrack is also frequently ill-suited to the action. The aforementioned scene in which Bloom first tampers with the crime scene is an intense watershed moment in the narrative. It would have said more in deafening silence than in music that fails to aptly punctuate the uneasiness of the moment.
Nightcrawler isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. The disturbed, unbalanced psychopath has been done and the implications of the state of the media and journalism has been tackled many times. But an intriguing plot and a wonderful performance by Jake Gyllenhaal makes Nightcrawler one of the more compelling films released in 2014. (7)