Veteran screenwriter Dan Gilroy tackles the seedy underground world of freelance news videographers in his directorial debut Nightcrawler. Set in the dark and lonely underbelly of overnight Los Angeles, the film explores questions of morality, asking who is responsible for this twisted profession. As we watch just how far one man will go in order to succeed in this business, we must ask ourselves is it those with the cameras, the station news managers who buy the footage looking for ratings, or the viewers lapping it up every morning.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a petty thief looking for work and just trying to get by. Late one night after he unsuccessfully tries to get a job at an overnight scrap yard, he comes upon a terrible car accident on the highway. As the police are attempting to rescue the passenger trapped in the vehicle, a freelance videographer shows up trying to capture the pinnacle moment that would capture television viewers’ attention. Seeing the opportunity, Bloom decides to start his own freelance videographer business. He establishes a business relationship with the lowest rated network in Los Angeles and his bold and fearless approach to the game causes him to quickly rise through the ranks. He takes on an assistant and their operation soon grows. One night while listening to their police scanner, Bloom decides to go try and get footage of a break and enter home invasion and promptly arrives at the address with a horrific crime still in progress. This gruesome footage that he has captured is sold to the news station and they air it. He ends up capturing key moments on video, which he withholds from the station and he becomes entwined with the police investigation for which they suspect him of concealing evidence.
With the identity of the suspects known to him, Bloom takes his actions to extreme with the intent of generating moments of significant intensity that he can capture on video and sell to the station for large amounts of money. He manipulates everyone around him and brings the crime to a shocking and spectacular close by giving police the information they need while he and his assistant are right there to film it.
Gyllenhaal delivers a knockout performance as an opportunistic sociopath that crosses moral boundaries so effortlessly that we can’t help but watch in awe and excitement. His interactions with those around him are quite humorous which bring a much-needed levity to the depraved subject matter. He is likeable and detestable, charming and twisted, and we are conflicted as to whether or not we should root for this morally questionable individual to succeed. Gyllenhaal knocks this one out of the park and continues his impressive streak of complex, interesting characters in a string of bold film projects.
Complimentary to this character is the visually stunning cinematography so perfectly capturing this world and the score from James Newton Howard. The director and composer make conscious choices to have moments of horror paired with the sounds of triumphant music that signify the feelings of euphoria in Bloom as he captures what he sees as exclusive and exciting moments on video. It adds to the uneasy nature of the film.
While the film does take a bit of time to find its footing at the beginning, the story continues a slow, progressive build, sneaking up on the viewer, leading to a climax that leaves us with an unshakeable feeling. The audience is left pondering complex questions while feeling completely agitated. This is easily one of the year’s best films and destined to become a pivotal piece of work in Gyllenhaal’s impressive body of work.