As college students in 2014, the job market outside our cozy dorm room windows looks a whole lot like the animal kingdom. Only the fiercest, most tenacious millennials will secure fruitful jobs for themselves, or even just a shot at success. How far would you go for a shot? In his directorial debut, Dan Gilroy examines this crippling dilemma in a visually captivating, memorably unnerving film about a disconnected man in an increasingly connected world. “Nightcrawler” is a cautionary tale that resonates and disturbs. Buckle up.
Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) begins the film as a thief. The story opens on Lou clipping a chain-link fence seconds before being busted by an ill-fated security guard. After Lou beats the guard, we transition to a shot of his bony hand on the steering wheel of his car, the security guard’s watch dangling loosely around his wrist. Something’s off with Lou. He exhibits no nervousness or blatant desperation about his joblessness, but rather a quietly intense frustration that burns in his bulging eyes during attempts to sell himself to a potential employer.
While driving alone one evening after a failed sale, Lou stumbles upon a car ablaze on the shoulder of the highway. While the police are at work, two freelance cameramen (one played by Bill Paxton) run into the scene, capturing footage of the crash for whichever news station will pay the most. Lou is intrigued by the job and purchases his own camcorder along with a police scanner with the notion of making some money of his own. As we guessed, Lou is willing to go to amoral lengths in order to get what he wants, and from here on out, that is to be first to the crime scene (in which an affluent white person is stolen from or injured) in order to get some killer footage.
We know nothing about Lou Bloom’s upbringing. He seems to have been born from the shadows, and even resembles those bug-eyed lemurs that creep out at nighttime. Lou Bloom is the eyes that stare at you in the dark. Gyllenhaal famously lost 30 pounds for this film and it shows Ñ the skin on his face is taut around sickly-prominent cheekbones, allowing for the grotesque grin that won’t leave your mind after seeing the film. Top it all off with grease-soaked hair slicked back for miles, and you wind up with that creep you would never let babysit your kids.
Gyllenhaal has been receiving high praise for “Nightcrawler,” and it’s more than well-deserved. This is easily career-best work for him, and chances are you’ll see his skinny face grace the many best actor lists come award season. Lou Bloom is similar to Travis Bickle of “Taxi Driver” in his social ineptitude and disregard for conventional societal codes of conduct; but while you likely won’t meet anyone that doesn’t get a “Taxi Driver” feel from “Nightcrawler,” Lou Bloom is an entirely unique character, and that is in large part due to Gyllenhaal’s performance.
Bloom claims to dislike people, and I can’t really imagine anyone contesting that. But one has to wonder if his aversion is based on an inherent lack of empathy or his constant companion: the World Wide Web. Now, no one in my generation likes fire and brimstone shouting concerning the Internet, but consider a time before wikiHow and BuzzFeed articles about scoring a promotion. A time when people needed to ask other people questions, or even, heaven forbid, learn through experience. Louis adores the Internet; he readily tells everyone he meets something along the lines of, “You can find anything on the Internet,” constantly espousing the values of a guidebook for life always at one’s fingertips. He is as calculating as a computer Ñ Lou very well might see the world in streams of ones and zeroes.
The audience, however, sees some pretty stunning cinematography from Robert Elswitt. The cinematographer captured California in two previous critically-acclaimed films, “There Will Be Blood” and “Boogie Nights.” Elswitt knows the streets of Los Angeles and careens through them as Lou races to crime scenes. Neon gas station lights and the harsh white lights of news stations after midnight feel artificial, like that unnatural energy buzz that comes with caffeine.
Supporting actors Rene Russo (spouse of Gilroy), who plays the morning news director of the lowest-rated news station, along with Riz Ahmed, acting alongside Gyllenhaal as Lou’s GPS-wielder, are both well casted and perform well. Russo and Gyllenhaal play especially well off one another Ñ Russo’s character is twice Gyllenhaal’s, which makes for an engrossing relationship. With that said, Gyllenhaal will be the one to talk about, no question. “Nightcrawler,” sans Gyllenhaal’s performance, however, is absolutely still rife with absorbing themes of connection and tenacity, fluid visuals out of a mild but haunting nightmare and characters that feel real and, at times, alarmingly relatable.