The ambition of a sociopathic Angelino
(Not to be confused with the popular Marvel Comics property.)
Following last year’s critically-adored, Oscar-snubbed performance in Prisoners, leading man and Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal (Enemy, End of Watch) should expect to hear his name come up in awards chatter yet again for his latest role in rookie director Tony Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal gives a spellbinding lead performance as a Los Angelino with some sort of chemical imbalance—not exactly unlike Ryan Gosling’s starring as the Driver in Refn’s Drive. Nightcrawler exhibits shots of L.A. not always featured in today’s blockbusters. Like Drive or pre- and post-World War II films noir, the city’s shady side consumes the spectacle. Even the establishing shots of Hollywood Boulevard appear sketchy. Nothing, however, in Nightcrawler’s Los Angeles could be shadier than stone-cold sociopath Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal).
Nightcrawler, essentially, is a character study of one man’s twisted descent into a skewed American dream. Director Gilroy (writer of The Bourne Legacy and The Fall) begins his first film by depicting his protagonist in a most unflattering scenario—Louis Bloom commits theft, probable assault (possible murder), and breaking & entering to open the picture. However, there’s still something to Bloom that makes the audience root for him. Could it be his unfortunate lack of employment? His genuine enthusiasm and ambition? A hard-working attitude? The answer to all three is “yes”… even if he wears the watch he stole at film’s start throughout the entire narrative. We’re even reminded early on that Bloom is a “thief” and it doesn’t affect our opinion of him because the comment washes right over his soulless expression. Despite many irredeemable qualities, one can’t help but admire how bulletproof Bloom appears in the face of any given adversity. He works harder than everybody else and always finds his solution.
Following the “thief” comment, Bloom stumbles upon the fascinating world of freelance crime journalism in the underbelly of Los Angeles and quickly develops a taste and talent for it. He gathers everything he learns from the Internet or fellow “nightcrawlers” and adapts as quickly as he knows how—focusing on nothing else beside success and furthering himself by journalistic means.
After this, the film begins to take a political approach. Bloom employs another character, Rick (Riz Ahmed- Centurion, Closed Circuit), and exploits means, resources, and labor right before Rick’s very eyes. Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair, Thor: The Dark World) share a particularly unnerving scene where Bloom and Russo’s Nina negotiate the terms of news footage in exchange for a night together, begging the age-old question: What is my body worth? The age-old gender-inequality-at-the-professional-level rears its ugly head in full force with Nina working harder than anyone else in the newsroom and still falling prey to Bloom’s gaze. This dialogue should feature heavily in awards season discussions as Gyllenhaal and Russo’s performances light up the screen, demanding undivided attention.
Despite the Los Angeles setting, movie stars, celebrities, and other mogul-types don’t figure into the plot. Common people and lowlifes take the center stage. In fact, the film has a very direct message about how easily the news media can manipulate and get manipulated. Bloom’s easy hold and sway over television broadcast news should terrify the viewer. If a cold, calculated, selfish sociopath had just enough means and the right kind of ambition in Los Angeles, the world seemingly becomes his oyster. As Bloom hones his talent and acquires greater capital, the taste of power and money consumes his motivation. What begins as a means of making ends meet slowly turns into a taste for more. Like “Breaking Bad’s” Walter White, he quickly loses sight of his initial motive in favor of megalomania.
Bloom’s employee/ intern Rick also has the viewer wondering if he even exists throughout the film in a situation similar to the Tyler Durden character in Fight Club. Rick presents himself as a man readily available for any job at any time, probably homeless, with little talent. Louis does practically all of the work as they zip around L.A. looking for footage while Rick silently takes verbal abuse throughout. Rick represents the working class—hungry for work and to get ahead in life. Rick's unfortunate situation sees Louis’s rise right before his eyes with little to show for it despite sitting along for every single ride. He just can’t seem to get ahead professionally or personally because his employer lies to his face and feels no remorse. Surely this situation occurs beyond just freelance journalism.
With Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy proves in his first directorial effort that he can weave a compelling character piece into a fascinating thriller. Selecting the seedier angles of Los Angeles brilliantly translates to a plot involving freelance crime journalism. Gyllenhaal’s chilling, spellbinding performance serves as the film’s main treat with his performances growing more and more complex as his career progresses. He may not win the Oscar this year, but a nomination will receive serious consideration. Gilroy’s character study of a sociopath with the ambition to corner his market should draw in more of an audience as word-of-mouth progresses.