“Nightcrawler” is both chilling and fascinating in its sardonic observation of its very unlikable hero who is disturbingly singled-minded in his ruthless pursuit of success. When he happens to come across a possible way for success, he instantly sets himself for whatever will be done in the name of success, and it is very disturbing to watch how he gets away with all these nasty and manipulative tactics of his – and how others around him willingly let them tempted, manipulated, and exploited by him for whatever they need from him.
When we meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal who looks quite gaunt and creepy in his leaner appearance) during the opening scene, this young crook is in the middle of his usual small-time criminal activity during one night, and this scene exemplifies well how amoral and opportunistic he is. When he happens to be confronted by a security guard, Bloom tries to talk his way out of this situation at first, but then, right after he notices a fancy wristwatch on the guard’s left wrist, he chooses to knock him out and snatch that wristwatch instead while not forgetting his original target.
Although his latest criminal activity does not pay much in the end, Bloom comes across a car crash site on the road while returning to his home, and he notices a freelance film crew shooting a rescue job. There are many freelancers who usually roam around the city during many nights while searching for any good accident sites or crime scenes to be shot, and they usually sell these video clips to local TV news stations, which are always ready to buy anything sensational enough to be broadcast for their news programs.
Once he sees that he can give a shot in this underground field, Bloom prepares his business plan step by step. He gets a camcorder along with a radio scanner through stealing an expensive bicycle from someone, and then he starts to look for any possible chance for his breakthrough. The cinematographer Robert Elswit, who won an Oscar for his superlative cinematography in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There will be Blood” (2007), fills the night scenes with the cold, stark ambiance of night streets which took me back to Michael Mann’s “Collateral” (2004), and Bloom sometimes looks more like a hyena or coyote as driving his shabby Toyota vehicle around various areas of LA.
And then he finally gets the moment he desires. Although he is not so skilled during his first attempt to capture the fine details of a crime scene on his camcorder, he accomplishes the mission anyway, and he gives his first video footage to Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a struggling director of some local TV morning news program. Although the quality of his video clip is not that good enough to affect the rating of her news program, it is fairly good enough to be shown on TV, and Romina sees a good possibility from Bloom; she encourages him while paying him enough for what he delivered, and that is the beginning of their business relationship.
Bloom turns out to be a quick learner as he says, and he takes more forward steps as further improving his visual skills. Through his earned money, he buys a red sports car for arriving at the sites faster than not only his competitors including Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) but also policemen and paramedics, and he also gets himself equipped with better video tools. In addition, he hires Rick (Riz Ahmed), a young desperate guy who accepts Bloom’s tempting offer and then begins to work as his assistant/intern just because he needs money right now.
Determined to be the top of his business field, Bloom never hesitates whenever he smells something which may interest Romina and her TV station. In case of one crime scene, he slips into the house while noticed by no one around the scene, and he even alters several things in the house just for having a more effective moment to be captured on his camera – and that is just the beginning of his many morally and ethnically questionable behaviors we are going to witness.
Romina is not oblivious to what this ambitious freelancer does for delivering what he promises to her, but, as reflected in Sidney Lumet’s great film “Network” (1976), rating is everything for her and others in her field. They are always in the constant need of drawing viewers’ attention every day, and something to be accompanied with that familiar phrase “viewer discretion advised” is a sure thing to guarantee higher rating. Whenever they give ‘graphic’ sights to shock and grab their viewers’ eyes, their viewers want more to come, and we all have seen such a toxic cycle in our reality. Violence and crime are always ready to be sensationalized and amplified on the media as we desire, and we gladly go along with that while hypocritically blaming whatever comes handy to us.
The director Dan Gilory’s biting screenplay eventually goes into the area of a cold, morbid satire when Bloom comes across what may be the mother lode of his burgeoning professional career. As recording almost everything in the aftermath of some horrible crime before the police arrive, he also gets a far bigger opportunity which he cannot possibly ignore. While withholding the crucial information from the cops investigating the case, Bloom orchestrates a plan for shooting another sensational moment to excite millions of viewers around the city, and we get a fiendishly clever scene as he carefully prepares for whatever will be soon captured by his cameras. There are innocent people on the scene who may get hurt or killed because of his wily manipulation, but they are more or less than incidental extras in his view, and his sociopathic detachment feels far more nefarious than before as he reveals more of his true nature in his unnerving calmness.
Bloom is indeed quite a loathsome guy, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who also participated in the production of the film, gives an uncompromising performance which never dials down its dark, creepy intensity throughout the film. We dislike Bloom more as the movie looks closer at his dark sides through its cold, clinical approach, but we cannot help but be fascinated with how far he can go for his insidious purposes, and Gyllenhaal never steps back from the heart of darkness inside his character. This is a lying thief who feels no qualms about exploiting everyone around him, and there is a darkly humorous moment when he comes across a vehicle accident of some other freelancer guy. Bloom knows that guy, but that guy is merely another news material to be shot and sold now, and Bloom’s amoral ruthlessness especially reminds me of Tom Ripley, Patricia Highsmith’s equally calculating criminal hero.
The supporting characters around Bloom mainly function as our surrogates who are horrified by his sheer amorality even while being drawn deeper and deeper into the realm of his evil influence. Rene Russo is terrific especially during the scenes in which her character faces Bloom’s nastier sides, and she and Gyllenhaal have a very tense moment later in the story as Bloom corners Romina more and more during their private negotiation on his latest video footage. It is clear to both of them (and us) who has the upper hand, and Romina has no choice but to do as he wants – and then she even goes further once she is determined to follow her choice.
On the opposite, Riz Ahmed gains our small sympathy as his clueless character comes to have growing doubts on what he is asked to do for his boss. There eventually comes the moment when he faces his own limits which make him think twice, but Rick still wants money anyway while feeling more disgust, and he eventually finds himself in a very risky situation way over his head as helplessly holding the camera during one sequence which can be described as a cross between “Drive” (2011) and “The French Connection” (1971). Unlike that messy and choppy vehicle action sequence in “Taken 3” (2015), which confused me in every possible way, this sequence firmly holds our attention in its grip even at its most intense shot, and we are always aware of the exact movements on the screen during this terrific moment.
“Nightcrawler” is not a comfortable experience at all, but it is an absorbing character study glimmering its dark territory, and I found myself going back and forth between horror and fascination while also being amused by its satiric view on media sensationalism. Its story is essentially a deranged success drama pushed to extremes, and it is downright fearful to imagine what else its dangerous hero is capable of as climbing up and up along the ladder of success with his utter disregard of morals and ethics.
At one point, Bloom says “A friend is a gift you give yourself.” When you see where he eventually arrives in the end, you will probably think again of what he meant in his words. This guy serves no one but himself, and he needs others only when he need to use them – and no one can stop him once his eyes are set on something. When the movie is over, some of you may be relieved that you have never come across such a guy like him in your life.