American Success Story:
Absolutely bloody shocking is the only word (well, three words) for our first shot of Jake Gyllenhaal inhabiting the role of Lou Bloom. The actor appears to have put himself on a diet that has brought out the planes and angles of his face to a frightening degree. Couple that with his manic, brightly staring eyes and a feeling that he is just barely keeping the lid on his insanity and you have one of the creepiest new cinematic characters to have emerged in recent years.
You know The Hobbit, so popular at the moment? Think of a more handsome, much, much scarier and not-at-all sympathetic version of Gollum and you’re half way there.
And like Gollum, Bloom is seeking the precious Ring. Only in his case it is the Ring of Success, something that he values above all else. He doesn’t want to be invisible; he wants to be very much acknowledged. He is the demented child of online courses, his assured nonstop verbiage a grab-bag of Oprah-type business psychobabble and turgid sound bites. In one respect he is the American Dream writ large. He is also, at the start of Nightcrawler, a scavenger and thief; but as our first image on the often-present TV screen indicates, this is actually a predator more in line with a very hungry wolf.
Bloom is all set for his collision with the underground world of Los Angeles’s ‘nightcrawlers’: cameramen who listen in to police bands in order to be the first to hit scenes of carnage, be they accident or crime, and become the first to sell them to the early-morning news channels.
He is perfectly amoral and willing to go right over the line in order to get his footage. In doing so he begins a warped, twisted relationship with morning news director Nina (Rene Russo), a relationship that is based on blood and ratings. He calls her a vampire at one stage but these two are from the same night-dark cloth. Would she care if she knew the lengths he was going to in order to get the cum-shot? I doubt it.
There is no doubt that Jake Gyllenhaal is Bloom. ( Odd. I’ve tried to write ‘Lou’ a couple of times but it just won’t take. You can’t ever imagine this guy having friends outside of his potted plant.) In terms of intensity this part seems to have been tailored towards that inner ‘something’ that he has been exhibiting since his breakthrough with Donnie Darko. And like Darko he doesn’t see the world in the way that we do. ‘On TV it looks so real…’ he says at one point; but nothing except success and achievement is real for this guy. When he finds himself in the right position at the right time his entire face appears to light up with an unholy and inhuman glee. He is a genuine urban monster.
Yet without Russo the film would have been lacking something. Writer and director Dan Gilroy (Russo’s husband of 22 years) obviously means to implicate the viewer in the reasons that Bloom’s work exists. To that end Nina represents everything that is unethical about TV journalism – the same rolling news that Sky and their siblings give us every hour on the hour with repeat warnings that what we are about to see is gruesome—thus making damned sure that we continue to watch.
Since its release Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom has been consistently compared to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle (as played by Robert de Niro in Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film); but I don’t quite get that. I’m not saying that isn’t the intention; it’s just that Bickle may not have been playing with a full deck but his heart was in the right place –whilst Bloom is a darker, more demonic creature altogether.
With Rene Russo’s performance, however, I found myself thinking more of Faye Dunaway as the ruthless TV executive of Sidney Lumet’s Network (also ’76). Her obvious arousal at the sight of Bloom’s extreme (and of course exclusive!) footage is strangely erotic, implicating at least this viewer once again.
This is an amazingly assured debut feature from 55-year-old Dan Gilroy; even more so since a quick look at his sparse writing credits seems not to indicate that anything resembling Nightcrawler was on the way.
It is quite simply one of the year’s best and most gripping films.