As a general movie buff and wannabe film critic the idea of perspective fascinates me, particularly in a main character. I like to compare what I’m seeing to what might be seen by the person sitting in the theatre next to me, and again to the people in the film we’re watching, contemplating how we would react. A successful film gets you involved, but when your protagonist antagonist lacks empathy and seemingly relishes the idea of death and gore, which I personally can’t comprehend, how do you wrap your head around this perplexing persona?

Nightcrawler is one big, skewed view that we can’t begin to fathom. This is a tough task, as your window into this world doesn’t relate to the the goings-on, yet in this instance, by film’s end, this disconnected individual actually becomes the catalyst. Amazingly Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal pulled it off, bringing to life a man unfamiliar to everything and intriguing you with his very sick and twisted view, much like the sight of a dead body on the television.

Social commentary, moral standards in journalism, and how desensitised we’ve all become, are not untouched themes, in fact they’re quite common, but these days a good film-maker can always find a fresh way to approach the matter. The media is its own entity with a compromised angle that will always pander to everybody’s worse fears like a propaganda campaign, purely because it’s good for business. But this film isn’t about the media itself, instead we study a character who is unfeeling to all that goes on around him; this is the end result of the effects of the media.

In this instance the end result is an unsettling one, with false disposition, and unblinking, gaunt eyes that see all with a warped interpretation.

The Story

Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a man aware of, but detached, from the world around him, almost viewing it from the third person. The opening moments are a character profile as he steals, accosts, steals some more, then attempts to pawn his goods at a construction work site. He enters the foreman’s office uninvited, ignoring boundaries and the obvious cold shoulder, then happily asks for employment while he speaks motivational clichés as if it’ll help sell himself. His offer is rebuffed and he happily exits the office, but not without a hesitant moment. In that moment we see through his joyful and unshaken façade. It’s far too brittle to hide how his determination but lack of results have disturbed him. He then despondently drives Los Angeles at night. Selling scrap for pittance is his very small, unsatisfying game, and his first words, “I’m lost”, mean more than just a lack of knowing ones location.

But Lou is an opportunist. He’s looking for his niche, some kind of direction, and it doesn’t take long for the film to get into it as he finds it at the scene of a fiery car accident. He’s completely unaware of the chaos around him as he watches nightcrawler Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) view a fiery rescue through a camcorder lens, then abruptly leave for the next scene without batting an eyelid. It goes at a great pace as Lou is instantly enthralled with this world, and now inspired begins his life anew as a freelance cameraman.

The opening shots of night-time L.A, illuminated by lights, set the tone for the entire film. Lou lives in the shadows, day and night, and only appears when he’s under lights, but that’s what makes nightcrawling perfect for him. What makes Lou perfect for nightcrawling is he doesn’t just misunderstand boundaries, he doesn’t know they exist. He eagerly gets in the way of police and paramedics, showing no acknowledgement for them or the victims, whom he doesn’t even recognise as human beings. His work captures the attention of the desperate-for-success Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a morning news director who throws all caution into the wind, a little too easily for my liking, by working exclusively with Lou to ensure job security.

As Lou grows more into his role the more I found myself intrigued with him as a character, as from there his yearning turns into obsession. He starts role-playing a businessman, conducting job interviews and hiring the first interviewee, the equally desperate but much more grounded Rick (Riz Ahmed), who accepts the job without knowing any details and putting all faith, and power, in Lou’s hands. Meanwhile Lou continues to sprout motivational jargon, developing a new, believable façade. In actuality he’s an unprofessional professional, admonished by Loder for his cheap equipment and derided by Nina as an amateur. But it’s no difference to Lou as all his quotes are direct from books and wikipedia, all of them based around the concept that one must work hard to achieve. How one goes about that work is never explicitly stated.

With a new purpose discovered we get great insight into his mind as every frame of every scene has become his entire world. A man of routine, he spends his nights crawling, selling footage, watching the news, watering his plant, researching, and returning to the streets. The film raises the stakes with each scene Lou visits as the more he focusses the more he becomes obsessive and unstable, at one point illegally entering a neighbouring home and at another rearranging a crime scene to get the footage he wants. He looks at the scenes he creates with wonder and awe; this is the media’s reality, he’s in control, and he loves it.

To the other nightcrawler’s each scene is a means to a paycheck, showing great callousness, but when Lou films he shows nothing. The others are desensitised to what’s presented before them; Lou was never sensitised in the first place. He has an affinity with morbidity, and when he can’t see what he’s looking for he simply makes it himself. He’s not an independent news cameraman, he’s a film-maker.

His fierce focus sees him go to any great lengths to ensure his venture is a success. He meets with Nina for dinner, where he uses her precarious position as the director of a struggling news station to to coerce her, his empathy now on display. A desperate slave to her career, and without his work she’s dead in the water, she begrudgingly accepts his terms. His carefree attitude towards what he’s doing in this scene, which demonstrates awareness with disregard, is simply amazing as he finds no discomfort with sitting down to a meal having just blackmailed this work colleague. He’s no longer hiding.

Now comes the film’s moment of confrontation. Lou knocks back an offer from Loder to team up so they can cover more ground, then is late to what would have been a valuable story. Lou returns home, screams at his own reflection in the mirror and leaves it shattered. The mirror falling apart is Lou himself going to pieces, and while it’s not an original metaphor it’s still effective. He isn’t determined to succeed, he’s deathly afraid of failure, but this moment of confrontation spurs Lou on to new and frightening levels as he consciously decides he needn’t be in competition with rivals, and that if he can’t find the news he’ll make it himself. Unfortunately as Lou started to unravel so did the film.

Lou goes from a delusional, obsessed sociopath to something entirely different. On the way to a potential headline Lou conveniently stumbles upon a scene that he’s more than happy to capture. But this pales in comparison to what he does next. He watches a crime scene unfold, films everything with not a care, then uses this to orchestrate his next scene like a set designer.

This is where Lou finally ends the charade and reveals himself. From the beginning we’ve seen a lot of madness in his methods and all kinds of ulterior motives, but as his confidence grows so does his reach. Rick, so far nothing more than a lackey, inadvertently makes himself another obstacle that Lou must traverse as he demands a better pay cut. Furthermore, having secured his position as the hottest freelance cameraman in L.A he forcibly demands to be integrated into Nina’s morning news coverage with set pay and advertisement for his self-proclaimed news coverage company. Nina is reluctant but she relents, they’re both aware she lost her power to Lou long ago and without him her job is lost.

The fake website, obvious convenient lack of police work, and some fairly cringe-worthy dialogue, did let the film down. Grounded in reality I thought it wouldn’t delve into that realm, and unhappily it did, though luckily it couldn’t take anything away from the brilliant final act. We see just how far Lou is willing to go, forsaking everything in order to attain the legitimacy he’s been craving, all with that smile on his face. I found myself heavily invested, worrying as Lou and Rick sat outside the noodle bar, watching and waiting in the shadows, camera’s at the ready. The police officer entering Lou’s frame, and it all hitting the fan, was the first time we saw through Lou’s lens, and in that moment we entered Lou’s world. It was not pretty.

The Making Of

The film doesn’t break new ground, but it doesn’t matter. Dan Gilroy captures the seedy, nocturnal side of L.A so well, and dumps a character who more than belongs right in the middle of it. It has this noir feel to it, but it also has elements of a psychological thriller and even an action film in the later stages. It feels like this hybrid film production-wise, and it easily could’ve gone to pot but Gilroy, who has done a great job in his debut as director, along with his brother-in-editor,John, keep it together and flowing well.

The script was a mixed bag. I didn’t buy some of the lines being sprouted about the role the media plays, and there were some convenient plot holes and devices, but when you consider the characterisation of Lou Bloom and how well the script was paced you can easily forgive it for some slight flaws.

It never reaches the dizzying heights that it seemed to be heading towards but it didn’t fall flat, it just changed things up for our benefit, and I commend it for pretty much swapping genre’s.

The Characters

Lou Bloom is unsettling. He relates to nothing, which is why this world is perfect for him. Everything seedy in L.A is cloaked in night, and that’s where he belongs. His conversing and relationship to all those around him consist of nothing but cliché ridden self-help, and though it appears he’s directing it towards others he’s actually trying to motivate himself. And it works, all too well; when he can’t make the news this go-getter makes the news. It’s no difference to him, he laughs at a man avoiding decapitation on television. He seems to enjoy the hysteria it creates, but not from a business-minded perspective.

Over the course of the film Lou looks more and more the part of a real journalist, eventually dressing in a suit and pants, despite having changed not at all and sprouting the same empty jargon. He’s incomprehensible to us, but just like the media has made death and destruction detachable we’re able to relate in one particular way; he’s just as detached as we are. He’s the media personified, using fear and manipulation to get what he wants, not recognising boundaries and ethics, and not once do morals and legalities ever cross his mind. In fact he flies in the face of them, getting in between paramedics and victims to get the footage he needs. To us these scenes are horrible and would cause some kind of reaction, even when we see them on the news. To Lou capturing this footage is like a drug, and Nina is his enabler.

Jake Gyllenhaal is superb in this film. His skinny, pale appearance, his stance and movements and even his hair were all spot-on for this role. He really became Lou Bloom, rather than just playing him. I’ve not been a huge fan of his until recently, and now that he’s shown he can put on a performance that I can get into I’ll be going back over his previous efforts. Any actor who puts on a show that generates Oscar buzz is ok by me, and I feel he still has more to offer.

Nina is like Lou in a way. An unprofessional professional, who goes from working by the numbers with little enthusiasm to seeing some kind of twisted beauty in the footage Lou captures. The two of them start out on opposite sides of the spectrum, but as time goes by they become physically closer and closer. At first she has his back to him, then they’re separated by a studio backdrop of L.A, and eventually they’re staring into each others eyes, nose to nose, as Nina pronounces her admiration for Lou’s work.

She slowly succumbs to the glamour of success in the media at the loss of all integrity, willing to broadcast gruesome images with only a viewer discretion warning preceding them, pushing legal boundaries without a care, and selling herself out in the process. Not once through the entire film does she refer to any of the filmed victim’s as people, only as commodities with a price to haggle over. I found it rather hard to believe she would be so easily ensnared by Lou, considering how repulsed she was by him originally and how he essentially forced her into satisfying his every whim.

Rene Russo did a great job here, though I feel like every other character was a distant second to Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom, and while I’m unfamiliar with her work I’m pleasantly surprised I stumbled upon her here.

In Conclusion

The old adage ‘the worse a car crash is the harder it is to look away’ makes you believe the choice to observe is yours alone when there’s an entire informative medium out there subtly making that decision for you. Nightcrawler starts as a blank canvas and within two hours it paints a not-too-pretty picture of the media. It’s brilliant in so many ways, and for those who wish to see a roller-coaster ride with great performances I implore you to see Gyllenhaal in this film. It’s not a thrill-ride, despite the presence of a very nice Dodge Charger, and it doesn’t end with a very large bang, but there’s a bang there and it’s worth the price of admission.

8 of 10