Meet Lou Bloom, or rather Louis Bloom to you and me. He’s a hard worker, sets high goals, has been told he’s persistent and is looking for work. He’s also a sociopath, a criminal and at the centre of Dan Gilroy’s latest thriller, Nightcrawler. A modern day cautionary tale of selling your soul for the American dream, we are introduced to the entrepreneurial Bloom whilst he’s in the process of stealing copper wiring to sell for scrap. After a violent encounter with a security guard that ends with Bloom stealing his expensive looking watch; we are presented with images of other desirable objects such as fast cars, as he cruises the moonlit streets of L.A. These opening moments perfectly set up the crux of Nightcrawler and the character of Lou Bloom. A film about greed and the corruptive nature of power, it charts the rise of Bloom as he falls into a career where he films and sells footage of car accidents and crime scenes to local news stations. The bloodier the scene, the better; Lou finds his disconnect and lack of empathy with other human begins essential in capturing the best footage possible. He goes to great lengths in securing his foothold in the news industry and as his career progresses, so does his descent into darkness.
An admirable but not a wholly satisfying experience, Nightcrawler is filled with so much subtext and satire that the story seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. From a nuts and bolts perspective, for the most part everything is in fine working order and the themes and social commentary it has to offer make it at least intriguing to watch. Made at a time where the economic climate is far from extraordinary, its portrayal of a man who will do anything to achieve some kind of professional standing is keenly observed. A twisted representation however, the majority of the players who hold some kind of power are all cold, careless, corruptive and in turn easily corruptible. This comes to a head when Bloom meets news producer Nina Romina, a woman whose heartlessness and lack of journalistic integrity almost equals his. As the two form a working relationship, Lou uses his apparent leverage for great footage as a way of seducing Nina as if she were another object to be owned. At first, she seems to find the idea ludicrous but as the story progresses, she too becomes corrupted by his substantial influence. The only likeable characters who seem to have some kind of moral compass are barely glimpsed and sidelined, and this makes the film a tough watch at times. Without some kind of good to counteract the bad, it treads the fine line of glorifying the deeds of the psychotic Bloom and is part of the reason why the film doesn’t work as much as I had hoped.
I understand there are streaks of dark satire running throughout it, especially when it comes to the way it looks at journalism, and in that respect it would make an interesting double bill with the recent Gone Girl. Both make fun of the fear-mongering and dramatic nature of the American news, with the idea in Nightcrawler being to capture footage of “urban crime, creeping into the suburbs”. The black comedy here however does sometimes miss the mark. Many people in my screening for instance found the aforementioned scene in which Bloom threatens Nina’s career unless they become more intimate, extremely funny. Whilst I have no doubt that this was the way the scene was intended, it is still a scene where a man in power is essentially trying to illicit sex through bribery of what is supposed to be a strong female character. This does no favours for the reputation of professional women all over the world and is just one of the many examples of why the film will split audiences, something which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and will be sure to make a good talking point at least.
All of this in mind, the best part of the film is Jake Gyllenhaal who puts in a career-defining performance as Lou Bloom. I get the impression that it’ll be ignored come award season based purely on the fact that he doesn’t do the usual yelling, crying or general hammy-type acting that usually wins statues. His acting here is the perfect combination of cold and subtle. We see his character explode once, but otherwise there’s a disturbed quietness that hangs around Gyllenhaal’s performance that is needed for the role. His gaunt and haggard appearance gives him a grim reaper type look as he watches dying people in their final few moments through a camera lens. The character itself is one that despite being extremely unlikeable, is well defined and fascinating to watch. Having already been compared to Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, Lou Bloom is equally as terrifying and memorable, so much so that he overshadows the rest of the film.
An engaging character study, sharp mockery of faux-journalistic integrity and an outstanding central performance from Jake Gyllenhaal make Nightcrawler a worth while watch. However, as far as emotional engagement I was left unmoved, the thrills come far too late in the films final act and the lack of moral consequence makes for an unsatisfying end. Perhaps my expectations were high going in and the trailer is better than the film, but multiple watches will certainly be required to further gauge what it is about the film that doesn’t quite sit right for me.
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