In Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an out of work nobody scavenging a living by stealing from scrap yards when he discovers the world of ambulance-chasing video journalism. As he watches a freelance news crew heartlessly record the police rescuing an injured woman from a burning car wreck, the unscrupulous anti-hero realises he may have found his calling in life.
After pawning a stolen bike, Lou invests in a camera and police scanner and spends the night in his car waiting for the right emergency codes. After a slow start Dan Gilroy’s debut feature finds some momentum, helped by Riz Ahmed’s fantastic turn as a tragic and nervous drifter who lands the unfortunate job as Lou’s assistant. It’s when these two pair up and Lou builds his relationship with a return-to-form Rene Russo, who plays graveyard shift news director Nina, that Nightcrawler really hits its stride.
And you feel like Gyllenhaal is doing the same with his career. After a couple of Hollywood duds like Prince of Persia and Love and Other Drugs, the actor has returned to more independent fare with strong performances in Prisoners, End of Watch and Enemy. In Nightcrawler his twitchy demeanour and slimy wet smile gets under your skin and makes you squirm in your seat. And although the film is no doubt a thriller, foaming at the mouth with bribery and double crosses, it’s also a black comedy, with Lou constantly spouting self-help mantras and cookie-cutter lines learnt from online business schools. His loneliness and detachment from reality is both hilarious and terrifying in equal measure. He’s in his element in the grim world of morning news, and in a media industry where the rule of thumb is, “if it bleeds, it leads” Lou’s cut-throat ambition thrives and his lack of humanity allows him to be very effective. Too effective.
As he crosses the line from sinister voyeur to the sadistic puppeteer of these crime scenes, the tension tightens and the plot spirals to its grisly climax. Despite the movie’s superfluous observations of the media’s manipulation of stories in order to bag ratings, which is nothing we haven’t seen before in the likes of Network and Broadcast News, Nightcrawler is taught enough to grip your attention throughout with performances so on point and hideously mesmerising that you quickly forgive it of its foibles and enjoy the gruesome ride.
Set in LA’s neo-noir underbelly the nocturnal film is as hypnotising as it is unforgiving, and as a result Nightcrawler stays with you for days.
Words by Zac Colbert