Nightcrawler stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom. Everything we need to know about the character we learn in the first few minutes. Alone in the dark, we are introduced to Louis clipping a chain-link fence in an unauthorized area. A police officer pulls up to the scene and quizzes Louis on his deeds. Louis feigns ignorance, spooling out a series of lies about being lost, innocent and the like. He then sees a nice watch on the cop’s hands and decks him, stealing the timepiece in the process. Moments later Louis is shown at a construction site, offering a series of items, from manhole covers to chain-link strips. Louis tries to haggle a good price for the items with the foreman whom comments that there has been a string of thefts related to such items of late. Louis once more plays the part of innocence, before changing the subject to his desire to work for the foreman. Rapid-fire in his speech and speaking in seemingly practiced bullet-points, Louis goes on and on about his work-ethic, drive and desires. The foreman states he isn’t hiring him. When Louis protests why, the foreman bluntly replies, “I don’t hire thieves.”
It’s a rather marvelous, smart opening to Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut. Gilroy, a veteran screenwriter who also wrote his new film, sets the creeping menace of his lead character right off the bat. Louis Bloom is a sociopath looking for his place in society, recalling the likes of Travis Bickle and, even more so, Rupert Pupkin. While never desperate in tenor, Louis is clearly desperate for a chance to have a career. He finds it in in the dregs of crime-scene journalism after witnessing a bloody, fiery car crash and the men who make their living off filming the horror. A step behind due to no training and even less money, Louis’ ethics or moral-lines do not exist. Where others know not to enter the home of a grieving couple for extra footage, Louis strolls in when nobody’s looking, capturing the crying pair through the backdoor window.
This lack of morality gets him the attention of local overnight televison producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo). With her television ratings last in Los Angeles, Nina buys the unseemly footage, accidentally spurring on Louis and his endeavors. The small boost in his ego and direction only spirals Louis into worse areas, leading to Nightcrawler’s unnerving, eerie last half.
Gyllenhaal continues his ridiculous run here, crafting yet another memorable character. On the border of ghostly-thin and with a predilection for bug-eyed babbling, his presence alone makes one uncomfortable. Along with the strong character construction by Gilroy, Gyllenhaal forms a uniquely terrifying creation. Gilroy’s script provides Gyllenhaal a strange intelligence rooted in obsessing over internet information. At one point Louis debates, in his usual pseudo-monotone manner, with Ruso’s Nina about how much she needs him. Without missing a beat, he runs down her job history with clinical precision. He uses the facts of life as a bargaining tool with everyone he meets, even if he never knows the finer details behind them. The intensity Gyllenhaal brings to his forcefully calm presence is absolutely chilling.
It’s a letdown that the rest of Nightcrawler doesn’t match its center. Gilroy’s movie isn’t bad otherwise, merely lacking the originality or punch of the movie’s heart. There is an assistant character for Louis played by Riz Ahmed that isn’t formed well enough, too often feeling like he’s there to allow for our lead to pontificate his theories on life. The scenes in the newsroom with Russo also come across a tad generic at times, particularly when she’s bumping up against another producer about how far to go with their violent content. Still, Russo is strong here, especially in a dinner scene with Gyllenhaal’s slyly condescending monster.
Gilroy wisely tapped cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) to shoot his picture. There is certainly the Los Angeles haze one has become accustomed to in Michael Mann’s version of the city; the darkness of the night is blacker here. Chunks of the city are only lit by the dimmest of street-signs, allowing for the light on the tip of Louis’ camera to brighten up the gore he films. The tension it stirs alongside everything with the Louis character makes Nightcrawler well worth watching, if short of great.
Nightcrawler opens in Seattle tomorrow.