Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, subtly reminds me of two lesser known Martin Scorsese films– The King of Comedy and Bringing Out The Dead. Gilroy turns the nighttime scene into this silky, haunting, dangerous character in Nightcrawler a la Bringing Out The Dead, and Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom is just as mesmerizing and innocently sociopathic as Robert De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy. If that isn’t one hell of a compliment for a director and an actor, I don’t know what is. Nightcrawler is fantastic.
The film follows Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), who changes his name to Louis early on in the film because it sounds more professional. Bloom scrapes his way through life performing petty crimes like stealing copper and pawning stolen bicycles, despite his tireless work ethic and business acumen. While not formally educated, Louis is highly intelligent and leverages the internet as his institution to quickly soak up knowledge. His hobbies include studying and planning his pursuits during the day and “working” at night. But Louis aspires to a grander endeavor.
On one of his nightly drives, he comes across a horrific accident that is being filmed by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) of Mayhem News, a freelance video production company that sells exclusive, explicit footage to the highest-bidding news station. The higher the body count, the higher the bid. Seeing the opportunity to seize his future, Bloom gets a camera and police scanner and begins racing around town to scenes of accidents, shootings, and robberies, filming whatever he can to sell his sizzle reels to Nina Romina (Rene Russo), an aging news director who is desperate to have a leg up on the other news stations. The business relationship between Louis and Nina feeds Bloom’s business, a seemingly harmless if morally bankrupt enterprise. But as the stakes get higher as sweeps week approaches, Louis’s unscrupulous quest for scintillating camerawork becomes frightening.
Dan Gilroy’s excellent script provides plenty of structure for who Louis Bloom is, but Nightcrawler succeeds entirely on Jake Gyllenhaal’s captivating performance. Gyllenhaal lost substantial weight for the role, transforming himself into a gangly creature with slicked back hair, wide eyes, and a giddy, creepy smile. Louis Bloom seems harmless but unethical, a man child who could have been a successful executive if his parents paid more attention to him. Louis chooses his words carefully and communicates very clearly, not because he is predisposed to do so, but because he learned it in a book. It’s utterly fascinating character work that is so nuanced that it’s never really spoken but rather alluded to as we spend more time with Louis Bloom.
Similar to Taxi Driver, another Scorsese masterpiece, we can identify with several of the character’s feelings– loneliness, the desire for love, and the dissatisfaction with our current place in life, but Louis Bloom (and Travis Bickle) distort those feelings to go so far beyond what any normal person would do that the destination is downright disturbing. It’s what Gilroy and Gyllenhaal imply rather than show that makes Nightcrawler such a great character study. Russo and Paxton also round out the world of Louis Bloom with great performances on their own.
If I have one nitpick, it’s with James Newton Howard’s musical score. Music permeates the film, pulsing throughout each frame and contributing to the character that is nighttime Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the normally phenomenal composer seems out of place in such an odd movie, employing Oscar-esque, sweeping orchestral cues where he should have taken a page out of Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross’s book.
Overall though, Nightcrawler is the type of great movie that you don’t get to experience often. The time spent with Louis Bloom is uncomfortable yet hypnotizing, and the smart script and brilliant performances make Nightcrawler a must-see. I wouldn’t normally do this two weeks in a row, but this movie is worth it.
Nightcrawler opens today in Philly area theaters.