By Bob Garver
Nov. 3, 2014. Almost all of the memorable scenes in “Nightcrawler” are ones where Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Lou Bloom, is trying to get the better of people. Sometimes he’s trying to get a job. Sometimes he’s negotiating a price of his crime scene footage with local news director Nina (Rene Russo). Sometime’s he’s negotiating with Nina for something more than money. Sometimes he’s exploiting his hapless assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed). Sometimes he’s trying to explain his way out of trouble with the police. Whatever he’s doing, Lou rarely sees people as anything more than opponents – opponents who need to be beaten.
Some of this he does out of necessity (the movie takes place in the unforgiving world of late-night Los Angeles), but often he does it just because he’s him. This is a character who can only live with himself if he has the upper hand on people. I’ve heard Lou compared to Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale’s character in “American Psycho”) and it’s certainly an apt comparison, but I saw him as more akin to Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis’ character in “There Will be Blood). Plainview had many great quotes, but the one that applies best here is, “I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.” This is an exaggeration, of course, both Plainview and Lou Bloom can allow other people to succeed. There wouldn’t be anything to take away from them otherwise.
The story follows the unemployed Lou as he tries to make a living filming the grisly aftermath of crime scenes. He seems like the kind of guy who would hang around a crime scene anyway, so why not get paid for it? He sells his footage to a fledging local news show, one whose ratings absolutely hinge on violence and misery (but mostly violence). These characters not only believe in the cynical rule of, “If it bleeds, it leads,” they live by it. They certainly don’t seem to believe in any others.
Things get even darker when Lou decides that to stay ahead in the game, he can’t wait until the crimes have been committed to do his filming. The conclusion of the film sees him unfurl an evil plan that is frankly far-fetched even for this movie. The film’s advertising has promoted Lou using the phrase, “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.” He has about the same odds of winning the lottery as he does of everything coming together with the timing and circumstances that it does.
Jake Gyllenhaal gives the performance of his career as Lou. Obviously Lou is a person who doesn’t sleep at night, but thanks to Gyllenhaal, he looks like a person who doesn’t sleep ever. He has a formal way of talking that makes it clear that he understands the importance of social skills in becoming successful and equally clear that he has none.
For better or worse, Gyllenhaal is going to be synonymous with this role for some time. “Better” because he’s really good at it, “Worse” because he’s going to have a hard time getting work as anyone likable. It’s also worth mentioning that Rene Russo turns in an equally twisted performance as the jaded news director who becomes Lou’s favorite foil.
“Nightcrawler” is a fully-realized movie to be sure, but by no means an enjoyable one. There’s a certain deliciousness to the way Lou takes advantage of people, but it’s not a rewarding feeling. The climactic action sequence is brutal and intense, but the actual ending seems abrupt and is something less than the epic fall that this character deserves.
Still, this is a well-made movie that does an excellent job of making you detest its main characters. It’s called “Nightcrawler,” but it’s your skin that will be doing the crawling.
Two and a half stars out of five.