Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed
Early on in Nightcrawler, we witness burgeoning psychopath Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) happen upon the fresh scene of a car accident. He stands transfixed as he watches the first responders pulling a woman out of a burning car, and the crime scene journalists aggressively trying to infiltrate the perimeter in hopes of getting a money shot. For Louis, it’s love at first sight.
In an instant, he decides that this is his career calling, and mere days later he has joined the lurid ranks of the “nightcrawlers”, the journalists who trawl through the police scanners at night in the hopes of arriving at crime scenes before their competition. It’s a dirty, unpredictable way to make a living, but Louis quickly adapts when he sells his first crime scene footage to a struggling newsroom director (Nina, played by Rene Russo).
The two form a twisted symbiotic relationship with one another. She wants Louis’s increasingly lurid footage for ratings, and looks the other way when his methods clearly cross moral and ethical boundaries. He wants the power, the money and the prestige, and knows exactly how to exploit Nina’s weaknesses. It’s a fascinating character study of two morally bankrupt individuals.
Louis speaks in stilted sentences and takes no accountability for his actions; both are traits of a person with narcissistic personality disorder. Gyllenhaal lost an alarming amount of weight for the role, and has a gaunt, haunted look that is well suited for his manic persona. His eyes nearly pop out of his head. The effect is unnerving.
Louis’s actions are likely the result of mental illness. Nina has no excuse; she knows better, she just doesn’t care anymore. Her career is in jeopardy, and she tries to salvage it by any means necessary, even resorting to trading sexual favors with Louis in order to guarantee herself first dibs on his product.
While Gyllenhaal is receiving most of the acting praise, Russo is very, very good as well. Nina is a tragic character. She’s past her prime and knows it. You get the feeling that she doesn’t like tossing around phrases like “if it bleeds it leads”, but she’s resigned herself to her lot in life. Behind her gaudy makeup is a look of sadness and utter defeat.
It’s hard to believe that this is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy. He’s produced a tight, lean thriller with beautiful cinematography and startlingly visceral images. He’s also managed to take an unblinking look at how we consume news in the age of the internet. If the public wasn’t clamoring for his gory footage, Louis would be out of business. Instead, he becomes an overnight success story. Nina would argue that she’s only providing what the public wants to see, but is that justification for breaking codes of human decency? In the depraved world of Nightcrawler, it is. – Shannon