Nightcrawler isn’t important for its story, but its character. In a modern blockbuster world where movies are sold on their premise, here has arrived a character study in the vein of such classics as Taxi Driver, Network and King of Comedy which reveals deep seeded darkness that resides in all of us.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a thief when we meet him. He’s a man desperate to forge a career. In a world populated by reality shows that tell us if we aren’t achieving vast wealth, success and even fame we aren’t worth anything, Lou has been drawn in by the glitz and glamour of what a self created business model could transform him into.
His manner from the off is that of a man who has spent way too much time reading self-help books and watching online business tutorials. He is wide eyed, always smiling, brimming with positive- buzz word laden monologues about what he considers important facets of business acumen, and under it all is simmering with desperation.
Whilst driving through the LA night (shot incredibly by cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will be Blood, The Town)) Lou happens upon a car wreck, replete with bloodied bodies, being filmed with an unflinching eye by a freelance news footage recorder (Bill Paxton). Discovering that this can be a lucrative practice Lou buys a camera and police scanner before setting to work.
As I mentioned at the top the story seems almost superfluous after this point. Everything that happens is all about Lou and his terrifying need for success. In the face of death and complete carnage he is unfeeling in his quest for the best footage. The frenzied smile he wears whilst shooting a close up of a freshly murdered body is as chilling as any horror movie monster. What’s worse is that the power the footage grants him in the shady world of 24 hour news allows him to become a revered businessman and complete sociopath at the same time.
The entire journey of Lou is of course a biting satire on the modern, media hungry world which is wholly concerned with personal success. And the most scary thing about Lou is that we never find him as despicable as we should. His actions shock us to the core, but the sad truth is that many of us have had to enact deplorable and shameful things in the name of impressing our boss, improving our social standing or getting one up on our neighbours. They are heightened versions of things that millions of people do every day in the name of climbing the ladder.
This is social commentary of the highest calibre. Screenwriter and Director Dan Gilroy (Bourne Legacy, Real Steel) has taken the social mirror of Videodrome and funnelled it into a single soul who, like King of Comedy’s Rupert Pupkin is so convinced his path is the right one, that his drive, determination and assumed-to-be-correct knowledge blinds him to all else.
You only have to go so far as to watch BBC’s The Apprentice to see real life people who, given the opportunity, would all become Lou Bloom if it meant making money and owning a company. This is what makes Nightcrawler not just a great film, but an essential film for today’s audience. It serves as a warning just as Network did back in 1976 (a warning which went unheeded and became truth). The terrifying thing is that we are surrounded by Lou Blooms. The even scarier thing is that we have a little Lou Bloom inside ourselves.
Gyllenhaal embodies this persona so entirely that he instantly becomes an icon of cinema. This is a character begging to be studied, dissected and written about in great detail for years to come. And the performance is more than a career best, it is one of cinema’s greats.
I try to avoid knee-jerk grand statements about a film before I’ve had a few days to let my thoughts and emotional responses settle. But it is so instantly clear to me that Nightcrawler is easily this year’s best film so far. It is crucial viewing, and that is the kind of statement I don’t get to make enough about new films.