Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal is about one man’s rise from nothing to one of the key suppliers of crime news footage to LA news shows. It’s not a happy film and will leave your skin crawling, because it’s about the pursuit of the American Dream no matter what and to hell with the consequences.
Few psychological thrillers and horror films have managed to make my skin crawl as much as Nightcrawler did. The evolution of Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is more irksome than Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, and more sinister than Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs. Both of those characters are shown to be monsters early on in their introductions, but with Bloom… watching him is like being slowly boiled in a pot. You don’t at first realise what he is and it’s slowly revealed over the course of the film.
Gilroy has you feeling reasonably sorry for Bloom when the film starts out with Bloom trying to make a few bucks stealing metal. We find out he never graduated high school and we can see that he’s a bit off, a bit socially awkward and you think nothing of it. For the first part of the film, I only felt pity towards Bloom. And then Gyllenhaal begins revving up and we see how he’s matured in playing complex characters with psychological issues. His portrayal of Bloom is Donnie Darko on steroids and meth.
The change in Bloom is chilling and one of the most compelling aspects of this film. It’s a character study that snarls at the ideas of how to progress up the social ladder. This isn’t How to Make Friends and Alienate People, no, Nightcrawler doesn’t want you to laugh, it just wants your eyes to open wider and wider in horror at this individual story about the pursuit of success.
Fitting in some satire
The film is also heavily critical of the ratings driven affair that US news programmes have become. Though it completely ignores the chumminess of something like Anchorman and remains fully committed to making you squirm in your seat. Lou Bloom is the scariest aspect of the film, but he’s not alone in seeming like some depraved version of humanity. Rene Russo’s Nina seems less than tender at first with lines like:
“Think of our newscast as a screaming woman, running down the street with her throat cut.”
Ratings and the pursuit of them are partially what drives the film on into allowing Lou to fall into greater depths of depravity, all for the sake of the American Dream. And then Lou’s time before he’s found his niche in the world really send-up the business-talk that so many under 35s are being cajoled into adopting in order to supposedly help them find work, with quick monologues that start like:
“I’m looking for a job. In fact, I’ve made up my mind to find a career that I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I’m a hard worker. I set high goals and I’ve been told that I’m persistent.”
The way Lou pursues his goals was like witnessing what happens when someone reads 90% of the self-help and business start-up books out there and doesn’t think critically on what they say.
Dan Gilroy has done an amazing job in writing and directing Nightcrawler. It’s a chilling watch and has some of the best character development I’ve seen in a while. There is no redemption in this film, only the hungry pursuit of personal wealth at the expense of everything and everyone else. This is one film I definitely recommend watching at least once.
Nightcrawler is out in cinemas now. Our reviewer bought their own ticket.