The term nightcrawler is a term used to describe a freelance cameraman who slinks through the wee hours of the night hoping to catch the kind of raw film footage that keeps eyes glued to TV news screens. The gorier, the more depraved the better. Because, that is, after all, what sells.
The folks who do that kind of work have a thick constitution and are necessarily a bit short on empathy. They are the kind of folks sticking a camera between a grieving husband and his dying wife at the scene of a horrific auto accident. In short, these aren’t really nice people. In screenwriter/director Dan Gilroy’s new film “Nightcrawler,” it’s made readily apparent that the people who do this job are among the lowest of the low in our working society. Basically, the fact that they’re working at all is the only redeeming quality about the nightcrawlers of Los Angeles.
In this dirty underworld, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is the dirtiest. The handsome, chiseled features and usually affable persona Gyllenhaal is known for are nowhere to be found. Here, the 33-year-old is barely recognizable. It’s hard to say how much weight he must have lost, but Gyllenhaal — widely known as a method actor — looks every bit the part of the insomniac focused solely on advancing his own interests and building a mini-empire in the seedy world of L.A. nightcrawlers.
Bloom is the very definition of a sociopath. The people he meets may find him a little odd, and maybe a bit intense, but that’s really all they see. They don’t know that Bloom really hates people. He could care less if one or more of the people he met on a daily basis died on the way to getting what he wants.
Starting off the film as a petty thief, Gyllenhaal’s character clearly wants more, but his ambition far exceeds his knowledge of business or his understanding of people. A midnight run-in with a free lance news crew run by veteran nightcrawler Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) filming a horrific accident gives Bloom a spark of an idea. It’s his ruthlessness and unwavering ambition that give him the chance to succeed in a world he knows nothing about.
Gyllenhaal is certainly believable as the Lou Bloom, but the real standout is relative newcomer Riz Ahmed, who plays Gyllenhaal’s hapless employee/sidekick Rick.
The once-and-maybe-still-homeless Rick is the subject of countless management-by-the-book lessons spouted by Bloom, whose delusions of grandeur grow exponentially with every successful catch of a gruesome crime scene.
There is a suspenseful buildup to a suitably jaw-clenching climax, but in the interest of not spoiling the plot, I’ll leave that part out.
“Nightcrawler” is not an enjoyable film. It is, however, engrossing. At least in the sense one can’t turn away from an impending 60 mph head-on collision, “Nightcrawler” keeps the audience’s attention.