“My motto is, ‘if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.'”
On the road to success, obstacles and blockades oftentimes get in our way. Maybe life happens and sacrifices have to be made, sometimes settling for the off brand version of the luxurious future we once mapped out and dreamt of. For Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), settling isn’t an option. He has tunnel vision and all that he sees as his endgame is success. If prosperity was a car, Lou would be the deer blinded by the headlights, seemingly hopeful to be hit. In the long history of cinema I’d have to say there really hasn’t been a character quite like him. And while Nightcrawler is electrifying, it’s he who sets it ablaze.
In the fabled story of Icarus, the young man heeds his father’s warning and flies too closely to the sun, melting his wings made of feathers and wax and plummeting to the sea where he drowns. That’s Lou. He’s unemployed and lives alone in a studio apartment where he waters a single plant with diligence. His days are spent in front of his computer running through scenarios and strategies to promote himself to employers. But it doesn’t help the petty thief who scraps stolen copper and manhole covers for cash. Early on an excellent POV shot shows where his eyes fall: a man’s flashy watch, ATM machines, fancy showroom cars. Despite being a lowlife, his hubris pairs with his avarice to create a deranged, acquisitive go-getter marbled with just the right amount of likability. The light of a camcorder becomes his sun, and we’re left wondering whether he can stop himself from getting too close.
Nightcrawlers are the people who scour the city in the dead of night trying to get to crime scenes and accidents before the cops. They make their living off of footage depicting incalculable loss and a grotesque exploitation of death. We’re told, “If it bleeds it leads.” Lou works his way into the underground community with his willingness to get closer than the rest, to break the rules for the sake of the shot. His conniving attitude takes him to the lowest rated news outlet. They need the boost in viewership, especially graveyard-shift director Nina Romina (Rene Russo), who will air anything during sweeps to assure her job security.
Lou studies fastidiously and learns the importance of shot composition and selection. He almost becomes a director of sorts as he sets out with his company Video Production News, along with his intern/employee Rick Garcia (played by himself) who starts out making $30 a night. As he rambles on one of his many soliloquies and we juxtapose it with his actions, we realize he is a fraud. He’s the kid in school who raised their hand at every question, always having the right answer memorized. But then they’re asked to expand and to reason, and they simply can’t. They don’t have any critical thinking skills. Lou always has a response but rarely has an explanation that doesn’t involve his own welfare.
Writer/director Dan Gilroy does Oscar worthy work here. Teamed with his standout cinematographer Robert Elswit, it’s just a great picture to look at. The chase scenes are tremendous, natural light fills the screen, and they’re never afraid to just sit back and do as little as possible. Russo proves she’s still got it and Bill Paxton, playing Lou’s competitor, soars as a man stuck on the bottom of morality’s ladder. My only problem with the film was that parts were just boring. At one point Lou begins tailing a car, and the lull stretches out like silly putty until it finally snaps and we’re reeled back in again.
What a career performance from Gyllenhaal. As Lou, he looks like a snake, often tying his hair into a sumo-style oicho (topknot) and sporting sunglasses at night. But he behaves like a barracuda. Like those fish, he’s opportunistic and competitive, a negotiator who will get his way no matter what. It’s hard not to be persuaded by his Tony Robbins inspired dialogue. And that’s the conundrum with the film. Lou is a terrible person and we know it all along. Yet even when the movie was over, I realized that I laughed alongside him, even felt understanding towards his questionable ethics and logic. His one redeeming quality is his indisputable desire to succeed. To be something. You’ll sit there afterwards and think, “Are there really people like this out there?” Sadly, I believe the answer is yes. Nightcrawler is one of the best, and certainly the creepiest, movies that you can see this year.
“I think Lou is inspiring all of us to reach a little higher.”
Rating: 4 out of 5