Jake Gyllenhaal is at his best in ‘Nightcrawler’

By Cory J. Willey

(Courtesy of Bold Films)
(Courtesy of Bold Films)

“Nightcrawler” is everything it promises to be and more. What starts as a film with seemingly no direction, following a sociopath around the streets of Los Angeles, turns into a brilliant display of character acting from the inimitable Jake Gyllenhaal, and a poignant critique of the state of the modern 24-hour television news system.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, the sociopath in question. He is yet another poor, jobless twenty-something living in a one-bedroom apartment in L.A., stealing and lying to survive. One night he comes upon a car crash on the highway and pulls over to watch as the police try to pull the victim from the car. A van pulls up and two men with cameras leap out and begin recording the scene, delighted by the crash and how it might sell.

It is here that Bloom is introduced to the seedy world of nightcrawlers, people who roam the streets at night waiting to hear about some accident or crime that is occurring so they can rush to the scene, film it and sell it to the local morning news. Bloom is fascinated and decides this is his new passion. He buys a camera and begins his life as a nightcrawler.

Throughout the first half of the first act of “Nightcrawler” it is almost impossible to guess where the film is going. It turns out that this is writer and director Dan Gilroy’s design all along. We are introduced to Gyllenhaal’s directionless, yet determined, Bloom at the lowest of low points in his life. He is stealing fencing and metal from construction sites and selling it to other construction sites to make what little money he can.

When a security guard on site catches him in the act, he lies his way through an awkward conversation trying to get out of it. He notices the man’s watch and immediately flips a switch, strangling the man, taking the watch and immediately moving onto another construction site to sell the stolen metal. These first few minutes show us exactly who we are dealing with in Bloom.

Gyllenhaal is absolutely amazing in this role, portraying Bloom as a sociopath whose smile is just a shallow cover over a madness that could surface at a moment’s notice. Considering he only really “loses it” once or twice in this film makes this all the more impressive on Gyllenhaal’s part. He is given a well-written and despicable character, placed in a disgusting world and simply let loose.

The result isn’t just another intelligent psychopath – a character archetype which we have seen done to death in recent years. Gyllenhaal brings his incredible talent for immersing himself and the audience entirely in a character, giving us an anti-hero we despise yet find ourselves unable to look away from.

Bloom is truly vile, and because of Gyllenhaal’s fantastic performance, the greater message of the film is able to hit home that much more strongly. TV news and crime journalism take center stage in this thriller, shining a light on a problem that has only gotten worse and worse as stations vie for more ratings. Turn on any local news channel and more often than not you’ll see stories about gruesome crimes committed in seemingly safe suburban neighborhoods. The film progresses methodically, giving us a deeper understanding of this world that many only see in a superficial sense. Bloom is able to reach higher up the ladder because he doesn’t care about human life. As his takes get more gruesome, they make more money.

Once Bloom becomes invested in this world, the film takes off, both in terms of suspense and the message it is trying to drive home. Gilroy and Gyllenhaal work in perfect harmony, ramping up the suspense and story in tandem. Bloom is never over the top and he never really uses physical violence to get what he wants. You won’t know exactly what kind of monster he is until the film’s final moments, making him an incredibly effective and interesting character to behold on screen.

Leaving the theater, it feels as though this is Gyllenhaal’s film alone. It seems like he has been given a loose outline of a character and left to play in a twisted world not unlike our own. While the film benefits greatly from his fantastic performance, what makes it great is the pacing. It slowly and intelligently builds up tension, leading to one of the most intense third acts of any film released this year. These, coupled with its deeper message about the state of the 24-hour news cycle, make “Nightcrawler” an indispensable thriller.

Cory J. Willey can be reached at [email protected]