The term “nightcrawler” refers to a group of blurry-eyed videographers who roam the streets of major cities feeding on the pain and misery of others. These camera-packing scavengers look to capture footage of some of humanity’s worst moments — murder, robbery, car crashes — to sell to the highest bidding TV station news department. This relationship works because the only motivation on both sides is to be the first to show the worst of who we are as a people.
In “Nightcrawler,” Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is particularly hungry to collect a little part of the bounty. His generation has slammed into a world where jobs aren’t abundant and those available lack glamour.
Bloom’s a hustler who turns his life as a petty criminal into a new career. He sits in dark alleys waiting for the police scanner to chirp out the kind of story that can earn him a paycheck.
Like a bugged-eyed coyote circling the smell of death, Bloom sits with anticipation for the next disaster. It’s hard to tell if he’s just ambitious or morally vacant, but Bloom has no problem manipulating the news to inflate his paycheck.
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Gyllenhaal’s performance falls somewhere between Norman Bates and Gordon Gekko in his entrepreneurial efforts. At times he seems driven by sociopath tendencies while other times his work borders on the madness of a great artist. The combination makes Bloom a character to be feared, but also the guy you want wading into the latest carnage to get the story.
The actor lost more than 40 pounds to play the role and the effect gives him a gaunt look that makes the character terrifying in so many ways. He’s particularly memorable in scenes with Rene Russo, who plays an aging former anchor who is desperate to hang onto the news world that once gave her great fame and fortune. She’s willing to do anything to get the ratings to keep her job.
The anchor role was written specifically for Russo by “Nightcrawler” director Dan Gilroy, who is Russo’s husband.
On the surface, the Bloom character appears to be a psychopath. But that does not give Gilroy nor Gyllenhaal enough credit. In Bloom, Gilroy has created an urban scavenger who survives by picking on the bones of the dead or dying.
It’s impossible to tell where his desperation to survive stops and his untethered passions for success begin. It’s a dangerous mix that Gyllenhaal plays with haunting results.
Gilroy is fearless in his writing and direction. He never backs off from making his main characters morally bankrupt and overly zealous when it comes to the job. These are not people to like as much as fear and respect for their lack of boundaries.
It’s also a gutsy move in the way Gilroy ends his movie. It’s an approach that will disappoint some, but it is really the proper finale for this story.
Like the ending or not, the film finds strength in the performances by Gyllenhaal and Russo. Their work is as captivating to watch as a police chase on a Los Angeles freeway.