“Nightcrawler”: A nocturnal thriller that crawls under your skin

Jake Gyllenhaal is thrilling in Dave Gilroy's "Nightcrawler," packed with commentary about media practices and modern consumerism.

"Nightcrawler" pulls viewers along for a wild and turbulent joyride through L.A.  Photo Credit:    Siavash Ghadiri Zahran   i, licensed under Creative Commons

"Nightcrawler" pulls viewers along for a wild and turbulent joyride through L.A.
Photo Credit: Siavash Ghadiri Zahrani, licensed under Creative Commons

"Nightcrawler” is a breakneck, hallucinatory ride through Los Angeles’ tangle of freeways.  As Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, “Nightcrawler” is a striking condemnation of modern capitalism and a fantastic journey through a disturbing reality.

The driving force behind the film is Jake Gyllenhaal’s remarkable performance as Lou Bloom, an ambitious but delusional young man. His skin pale under the moonlight and tight as a drum, eyes sunken and unblinking, Lou is on the prowl for footage to sell to local news stations, converting bodies into dollars and cents.

He has just entered the grisly field of crime journalism as a camera for hire, forming an alliance with local TV news director Nina (Rene Russo), who religiously abides by the “if it bleeds, it leads” tabloid catechism. 

Nina represents an age where the phrase “the following video contains graphic content” is both a warning and a flirtation. Preferring the news angle of suburban crime in wealthy neighbourhoods over the reality of rich drug lords, she withholds information and falsifies news stories with ratings in mind.

“Think of our newscast,” she tells Lou, the wide-eyed journalistic novice, “as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

Lou’s magnetic presence is mesmerizing. Just as blood and gore engross him, he becomes the subject of the spectator’s morbid curiosity. His cheerful and friendly disposition is all the more captivating for the tinge of mania that lies directly beneath it.

Robert Elswit’s cinematography is sleek and pulls viewers along with the momentum of Gilroy’s sharp writing and strong directing. The twinkling lights of Los Angeles’ dark underbelly shrouded in a sweeping landscape compose the dual fantastical and nightmarish appeal of the film.

If you are looking for plot realism, look somewhere else. Though the continuity and character development is steady, “Nightcrawler” is melodrama at its finest.

Through his nightly hunt for graphic scenes of carnage, Lou blurs the line between observer and participant to the crimes he covers. He is a bundle of raw ambition twisting tenets of traditional American can-do spirit, fitting it within his sociopathic mind.

He sees himself as an entrepreneur, mirroring his superiors on his ruthless climb to the top. He spouts business clichés to explain his every move, calling to mind the captains of corporations who use his jargon to justify bottom-line oriented management of their empires. He is the personification of the typical corporation, an encyclopedia of motivational comments designed to ensure stakeholder success.

“I’m offering you an exciting opportunity to explore your career options,” Lou tells Rick (Riz Ahmed), an eager but flustered man desperate for work who answers his want ad for an assistant. “It is not at all unusual for me to offer full-time job offers to my interns,” he adds. In fact, Lou has neither interns nor employees, and pulls Rick into progressively riskier assignments. As Lou is rewarded for increasingly unscrupulous acts, we see the spiralling dynamic of unbridled determination left in the wrong hands.

As the melodrama builds to a frenzy, it soon becomes clear that Lou is occupying the same world as the movie-goers, and by falling prey to click bait and tuning in to sensationalized local news they are complicit in his misdeeds. A sense of guilt sets in as the credits roll. “Nightcrawler” is true to its title, it crawls under your skin and leaves the spectators feeling dirty as they leave the cinema.