Jake Gyllenhaal has covered a lot of ground playing some complex characters throughout his career. Jack Twist in Brokeback Mountain, Robert Graysmith in Zodiac, and, of course, the title character in Donnie Darko are all characters that require a few layers in the performance. Lou Bloom is perhaps Gyllenhaal’s most complex character and one of his best performances to date.
In Nightcrawler, Lou Bloom is an ambitious man who discovers the world of “stringers.” Stringers spend their nights chasing police calls with a camera in the hopes of capturing footage that local TV news will pay them for their morning newscast. The movie was written and directed by Dan Gilroy and features Rene Russo, Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed.
From the opening scene, we know Lou has a loose relationship with the law and honesty. When negotiating with a construction foreman on the price of copper wire and other materials, Lou pitches his ambition and drive to find a career and excel in it. The foreman shuts him down, plainly saying, “I’m not going to hire a fucking thief.”
There’s something about Lou that defies that simplistic of a definition. Nightcrawler isn’t about a thief breaking into a business nor is it about a man with loose morals rising in an industry. Nightcrawler is a story about sociopathy and ambition.
Through his performance, Gyllenhaal exercises a strong grasp on the movie’s concept, flying through dialogue so effortlessly it would make Aaron Sorkin need to change his pants. We’re along for the ride with Lou as he climbs his own ranks and demonstrates what a terrifying self-starter he is.
Bill Paxton plays Lou’s competition, who’s a bit of a douchebag but not above noticing Lou’s talent and recognizing the threat that presents. Riz Ahmed is Rick, the timid but hungry assistant Lou hires. Rick provides an outlet for the audience’s feelings toward Lou. While watching Gyllenhaal’s performance, you’ll feel uneasy, but Ahmed acts as a release valve for the viewer and the result is a lot of intense and awkward scenes between the two.
Rene Russo‘s Nina is Lou’s connection to the news world. She is a stressed out producer who provides as close to a balance with Lou’s more despicable behavior as you can get. She’s ambitious but also struggling and Lou’s work is edgy, new and plentiful. She becomes dependent on Lou, which leads to difficulties when Lou negotiates a better deal.
The movie is an intense character study for Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom character. The inclusion of Nina, however, elevates Nightcrawler into more than just a study of a sociopath. There’s a very delicate chord struck with Nina as she slowly recognizes how dark Lou truly is but finds her own ambition clouding her morality. It’s a wonderful arc that leads the movie down a path where it becomes a commentary on modern news media wrapped around an intense study of a horrible person.
Nightcrawler is writer/director Dan Gilroy‘s directorial debut. He takes to the director’s seat like a seasoned professional and makes me eager to follow his directorial career. Considering most of the movie takes place at night, the movie’s cinematographer Robert Elswit had his worked cut out for him. Nightcrawler is lit beautifully. The team of Elswit and Gilroy is on full display during an intense chase sequence late in the movie, in particular.
The movie is directed, lit and written well but at the end of the day, Gyllenhaal’s performance is the best and most memorable part of Nightcrawler. He’s electrifying and dangerous. It’s a performance that I really hope is recognized when the Oscar nominations are announced.
OBSESSIVE GRADE: BLIND BUY
A movie fan is only as good as his or her movie collection. Titles that earn this grade are worth adding to your collection sight unseen and at full price.