Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
WE first see Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) in the headlights of an approaching car, his eyes shining in a dark, sunken face, a dog more than a wolf, a creature more of this world than that, but just. We first hear Lou talk, really talk, inside the office of a construction supervisor – to whom he has sold some stolen metal scrap – his lips stretched in a wide smile as he delivers too-glib talks on why he is a good employee to hire. “A foot in the door” – that’s all he wants, he says.
However, it’s quite clear from the beginning that Lou would hardly be satisfied with “a foot”. He hungers for more, and true to his manner, slinks in and settles inside the moment the first door presents itself.
It’s evident what Gilroy is aiming with for what lies on the other side of that door. Lou finds his break as a freelance cameramen among the pack of “nighcrawlers” stalking the streets of Los Angeles for a bloody crime or accident that makes for footage that can be sold to local television stations. That’s a beast seeking to be fed too, and like Lou, it is never sated.
Lou is meant to be the Travis Bickle holding the mirror to society, that wants its news delivered in big, bold labels of ‘Horror House’ or ‘Terror in Neighbourhood’, but is only too happy to be horrified or terrified every night. Gilroy loses no opportunity to underline that, particularly in the form of ageing news director Nina (Russo, very good), who desperate for TV eyeballs is willing to ignore Lou’s questionable tactics. Her idea of a good footage: “A woman running down a street her throat slit”. Preferably a white woman, preferably a rich street. If Faye Dunaway of Network comes to mind, that’s deliberate.
However, ‘Nightcrawler’ is no ‘Taxi Driver’, and Lou while a reflection of our full and empty times isn’t really a product of it. There’s something clearly unhinged about him, and it comes from deep within rather than anything outside. Still Gyllenhaal does a marvellous turn as the guy sitting in day in, day out alone at home, ingesting all kinds of information from the Net, emptying everything else out, carefully ironing his one good shirt. He wears a disarming smile and a loud laugh, and yet barely hidden contempt bubbles just underneath.
It’s also doubtful that in this day and age of in-your-face citizens with their phone cameras, Lou would attract both such value for or such hand-wringing over his “expertise”. Or that police can’t join the dots to where Lou crosses the line from filming a crime scene to staging it.
The question is, are you willing to bet on either?