Its customary in the 21st century to be completely desensitized to the horrendous acts of violence and crime committed throughout the world. Thank social media, entertainment and pop culture for that. And because of the desensitization, there are those out there looking to capitalize on the victims of these crimes by bypassing empathy for the all-consuming dollar. It’s all about the money shot. Nightcrawler puts this behavior on a pedestal from its antihero as he cons and swindles his way to the top of the stringer food chain – taking every roadblock and turning them into opportunities only if it benefits him.
Everything and everyone else is just an obstacle to hurdle over or maneuver around for a better advantage over the competition. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy in his directorial debut, he introduces us to Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). Bloom is an opportunist, a thief, a conman and most importantly, a salesman – we first meet him cutting a chain-link fence that he then beats up the security guard when confronted of trespassing, stealing his watch and haggles with a scrap yard manager for a more lucrative selling price. All while selling himself to the manager in the hopes of landing a job or internship – unsuccessfully.
That’s just the beginning of Louis’s dark and twisted journey that Gilroy straps you in for. While driving home, Louis encounters a car wreck and whats known as stringers (freelance journalist, videographers) as they break the rescue of the victim from their burning car. Just to sell to the local news station for a small fee. That’s when the lightbulb goes off above Lou’s head – he will do this job, better than anyone in the Los Angeles area and sell it at a premium, or what he thinks should be premium for the violent events that he shoots.
As Lou pays his dues showing up to the wrong crimes, he catches a break from a fatal carjacking and stabbing. Being the opportunist that he is, Lou bypasses all medical and police personnel to get a close up of the graphic event – a perfect shot for News director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) to run with on her station. According to her, the bloodier, the better and the more racially charged against white people, the bigger the coverage. “No one cares about Compton” she proclaims. Empathy be damned for a career like this. In the process of getting his feet wet to becoming fully committed to this new career path, Lou hires Rick (Riz Ahmed ) as a partner. But what Dan Gilroy writes as what anyone would assume to be an alpha personality, Lou plays more along the lines of a serial killer in plain sight.
One sentence spoken from Lou, and you begin to realize his narcissistic tendencies. He’s analytical, ambitious and bold – often taking conversations too far, going the extra mile for a scoop than anyone else would. It first happens when Louis and Rick show up late to a shooting – Louis passes the threshold, goes into the victims house and disrupts their personal space. Another instance Lou moves a body for a better shot. Louis won’t take no for an answer – he’s a parasite, attaching himself to the same underbellied side of society he’s exploiting for his own personal gain.
Playing Louis, Gyllenhaal gets lost in the role, for 117 minutes Jake doesn’t exist, Louis Bloom fully commands your attention. There’s a lot of Travis Bickle that makes up Louis Bloom – contorting the narrative to fit his twisted view on society. Both sharing an unpredictable nature to their character’s speaking in a monotone pitch and increasing the level of frustration util their breaking point.
Throughout its runtime, Dan Gilroy often shines a spotlight on journalistic integrity and capitalism. People will do anything for money and the lengths they go to are immeasurable. There are plenty of times Louis takes matters into his own hands which opens the conversation for how most people will cheat the system and how society consumes news. Nina and KWLA have a clear demographic they wish to focus on – certain crimes will draw more attention than others, which Louis provides and adapts to the situation when the demand increases. Gilroy’s script is satirical in nature, pointing a finger at just how ethical journalists are in a modern world that pulls potential viewers’ attention in many different directions. There’s competition to be had that these stations are losing battles to, and a juicy headline is something to salivate over with a decline in viewership.
Robert Elswit’s cinematography creates the visual tension, constantly building an uneasy atmosphere through the questionable choices Louis makes. The found footage element puts the viewer right in Louis’s shows while Gilroy and Gyllenhaal put you inside the mind of this psychopath upsetting the establishment. The choices that are made will keep Nightcrawler with you in the back of your mind, asking what you would do if you were in Louis’s shoes. Would you take the risks he does, contaminating crime scenes used as blackmail or play it safe and by the book, keeping every toe in line? The dilemma is too intriguing to not debate over.
Nightcrawler has many strengths at its disposal – it’s a fascinating character study of the American dream while it also exposes unhealthy behavior and a systemic culture of twisting a narrative that benefits one party over the other. Dan Gilroy’s antihero Louis Bloom represents a large portion of society – he hides in plain sight, he’s cunning, 5 steps ahead of his competition and dangerous. You’re either with him or against him and one wrong move against Louis may be your last. From his first word spoken Louis is in complete control of the narrative and by the end he’s a regular Keyser Söze, walking out of the voluntarily police interview with a limp that gradually gets better, knowing he got away with it.
Screenplay By: Dan Gilroy
Directed By: Dan Gilroy
Music By: James Newton Howard
Cinematography: Robert Elswit
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Edited By: John Gilroy
Release Date: October 31, 2014
Running Time: 1 Hour 57 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%