Gyllenhaal Creates Mesmerizing Creep
In Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal sheds 20 pounds and packs on the “creep” as a hapless drifter resigned to selling pilfered copper and chain link fencing. This film skewers the bloodthirsty world of today’s “gotta have it now” media while simultaneously creating one of the most fascinating and complex characters in quite some time.
Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a curious cross between DeNiro’s demented Travis Bickle and Psycho’s double-sided Norman Bates. He’s more than intellectually equipped but at the same time emotionally unpredictable -- the perfect combination of idiosyncrasies for his newfound career as an independent videographer who captures graphic footage of car accidents, stabbings, muggings, or whatever other “newsworthy” events any of the local L.A. TV stations might be interested in purchasing.
Bloom learns his new trade from a wise-cracking veteran (Bill Paxton) he meets one night at the scene of a bloody car crash. He soon discovers the gypsy lifestyle suits him well as he prowls the vacant city streets by night listening to his police scanner with cheap video camera at the ready, while meticulously editing video clips by day.
Of course, the biggest trick of the trade in this unscrupulous business is being first on scene, or the one who manages to elude attention of the annoyed police long enough to get the “money shots” which are highly desired by Nina (Rene Russo), the graveyard shift news director of a local television station with whom he forges an awkward business relationship. And if the perfect shot doesn’t present itself, Bloom is never above altering the scene to get it. He doesn’t seem to care about anything or anyone else, nor is any action off limits if it means getting the best shots of the worst of circumstances.
One crossed line leads to another and before we know it, Bloom is creating as much news as he’s reporting on while zooming through the city in a shiny new souped-up Challenger with top-notch equipment and a newly-hired assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed) as his GPS navigator and B-camera operator.
Gilroy’s script (his first) is thrilling, chilling, and even funny at times, but commits what is typically a fatal error, for we’re given very little backstory to his main character who seemingly pops up out of nowhere and creeps and crouches emotionlessly through bloody crime scenes with unknown motivation. But Gyllenhaal’s performance seems so captivatingly real, while at the same time so discomforting and far-removed from common morality, we’re unable to turn away. What initially feels like a preachy morality play with plenty of bad things to say about exploitative journalism, soon becomes a fascinating character study of a modern-day sociopath. And what a mesmerizing character Gyllenhaal has created. It’ll certainly go down with the best of them.
And not to be outdone is Rene Russo who delivers her best turn in years. Nina offers advice to Bloom on the value of quality equipment and how to capture the best shot, but she really grabs his attention when she urges him to think of her newscast as “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” They’re both hooked on what the other adds to the symbiotic relationship – Bloom needing the money, and Nina’s relevance in the dog-eat-dog world of crime journalism dependent on his graphic footage. Each gives us a scary view of the length people will go to earn a buck.
Then there’s the beautiful camera work of Robert Elswit who similarly brought after-hours L.A. to life in 2004’s Collateral. His depiction of the city in a constant yellow sodium-vapor glaze is absolutely beautiful while at the same time never masking the danger that lurks beyond the next frame.
Nightcrawler often pushes the bounds of credibility and, at times, even approaches the absurd as we know some of Bloom’s actions would land him in jail faster than his Challenger can get him to the next accident scene, but there’s no denying that Gilroy has landed a perfectly-placed punch on the hardened jaw of today’s media. The question becomes one of whether or not the media gets it or even cares.
(Released by Open Road Films and rated "R" for violence including graphic images and for language.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com .