Sometimes I wonder, after having watched movies pronounced ‘classics’ from decades ago, whether the next movie that the industry drops on us viewers will be one such. While not perfect, with an objectively straightforward plot and a ghastly chilling Gyllenhaal performance, this dark satire of a sociopath who scavenges the nights of L.A for on-spot crime footage might be a contender. At least, it is safe to say that, based solely on the astounding performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, who is the undisputed highlight of the show. Nightcrawler is a fast-paced, grim and macabre tale of a man who believes anything is possible with perseverance and the right mind to chase your dreams. Set in the meant-for-cinema landscape of Los Angeles, this is a film that is executed with accuracy and gives us the best on-screen sociopath we have seen in some time.
The film begins with Gyllenhaal’s character, Louis Bloom caught in a very suspicious situation near a restricted area. The private outfit-police who finds him questions him on his activity and threatens to arrest him for public property theft. Louis’s calm, cold response of taking him down with a grin on his face sets the mood for the rest of the movie, which similarly plays to this unsettling, darkly humorous note. The atmosphere and air built up is one perfectly descriptive of the nightlife prevalent in this area, bringing together a seedy picture of all that goes on behind the breaking news. David Gilroy in his debut has put together a fairly well-executed movie, consistent in its creeps and believable in design. Honestly, I found myself waiting at the end of the movie for those words that make any horrific movie many times darker – ‘based on a true story’, since the feel of the movie is such that it seems more like footage from a real person’s life. While all that is just necessary for the success is present in the atmosphere, the direction cannot be termed anything spectacular or unique, as the images and scenes feel like many we have seen before. But what elevates this movie is the pace in which the story moves forward, not overstaying its welcome, and not drawing attention to meaningless encounters and objects as these movies often do. Gilroy gives his viewers an undeniably interesting, and closer-than-comfortable look at how far this character is willing to go, quite like Louis does with his crime footage.
It is clear from the very beginning that Louis’s character is of iron will, determined to see his goals to the light of day, and willing to go to any lengths to achieve this. The funny thing is, he doesn’t have the faintest idea of what he wants to apply this determination to. He goes about scavenging for manhole covers, copper wires, and such materials he can sell off in black, and while doing this, he is seen to be scouting for an opportunity that could take him to greater paths. ‘If you want to win the lottery, you’ve got to make the money to buy a ticket.’ Where we come to see him, Louis is stuck in that first stage, trying to get into the draw with a ticket, but he’s not sure of what ticker to buy. His undying perseverance is told by his polite responses and consistent work, even though it’s clear to anyone that his efforts have stayed fruitless for long. He is a calculating, calm and firm-eyed character who on the external, appears to be a pretty neat guy, dedicated and serious. But the viewers can picture the darkness that lies within, for that is the result of opening the movie with the psychotic shadings of Louis. That was clearly a well-informed directorial decision, as the knowledge of his nature imposes on the audience a certain gut-wrenching feeling that something terrible might happen at any given moment. He does not seem to be a guy to mess with, and I found myself at many points through the film, shifting in my seat with the mental foreboding of something terrible to happen. But the beauty lies in the fact that such a moment of rage or violence does not occur, and the tension and the sense of something terribly wrong with Louis is held thoroughly. It is then that we understand that Louis’s character, unlike Patrick Bateman (American Psycho) or Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), does not operate on overt bursts of violence and blood, but is disturbing in his one-track mind, and the indirect chaos he overlooks in his climb up the ladder. He does not blow his load on anyone that annoys or down your spine, as he believes ‘communication is the number one key to success.’ This is a man, who although wrong in the head, understands how people work, and knows exactly how to appear as a slick, hard-working Joe for himself, and knows exactly what footage to show the people, so that they are excited and come back wanting more.
I remember, while being taught Macbeth, sometimes the epitome of fear is in the imagination, when gruesome and horrific scenes are executed offstage, with only responses and expressions left to play centre-stage, the horror is magnified. But the funny thing about the human mind is that, if given the opportunity to see behind the curtains, at what has actually unfolded, any of us would take it. This is seen repeatedly with magic tricks that we yearn to know the solution to, and mysteries we search for the answer to. Nightcrawler shows us that this is as true, if not more, in the case of real-life crimes and happenings around us. The people always want that one extra second of footage, that additional line of information that gives us a clearer picture of what actually transpired. Louis Bloom gives the people what they want, that shaky yet unambiguous shot of the blood-splattered face, the gruesome mangling or bullet-wound. This movie manages to serve in a plate the thirst of the public to be scared, showing themselves unforgettable images, without ever turning its attention to a member of the public. If there are a dozen television stations broadcasting the same crime from a safe standpoint, within legal limits, we are always looking for that one channel which has the video from that one cameraman who went the extra mile, breaching moral codes and laws. From his experience at just two such crime-sites, the protagonist is capable of drawing out the qualities required of his footage to give him a stand above the rest. True to his words, he is a fast learner and incredibly persistent. He sets high goals, knowing that getting footage after someone else has already arrived at the scene is useless, and doesn’t bother wasting time and film on it. As he furthers in his new-found occupation, we see Louis setting up for greater and greater leads, to the point where he cannot be satisfied without being at the crime-scene before even the police. This in turn leads him to commit crimes of his own, disrupt evidence and obstruct the mechanism of the law, all for the purpose of higher ratings, which in turn strengthen his affiliation with the station. Scavenging off the deaths and sorrow of others, with an unfaltering determination, he is every bit the nightcrawler. His strained tie with his intern portrays him in the light of a teacher, who believes that by the same methods and dedication that he employs, anyone can reach the top and achieve what they desire. And for this, nothing can stand in the way, especially others who keep questioning his methods and having their minds set on just the dollar-bills.
We the audience find ourselves in the extremely awkward position of being both unsettled by Louis Bloom, as well as rooting for his dedication to pay off, as we see the effort he puts into each lead, even while transcending the line between right and wrong. This starts from him dragging a body a few metres away from its original position for better lighting and artistic shots of the crime, and goes onto us hoping that he doesn’t get shot in the elaborate and dangerous restaurant shoot-out that he set up. All this is owed to Jake Gyllenhaal’s brilliant performance of the protagonist, bringing out the crazy, whacko side that we have barely seen since Donnie Darko. Right off the bat, his appearance and physique seem perfect for the role, impressing on the viewer the off-key yet enigmatic personality of this night-scavenger. Gyllenhaal seems to have been taken to the Christian Bale school of physical preparation, changing his physique to that of a gaunt, skeletal man, who is as unsettling in his wild, sunken eyes as he is in the acts he is not afraid to commit. Add to this Jake’s own wide, unsettling grin, and we have a psychopath that will potentially be remembered for years down the line. Appearance is only half the charisma of Louis Bloom, the other being the unwavering, calculative lines that he delivers in response to others. Hearing him speak, he most certainly comes off as a dedicated man, a hard-worker, who has very clear goals and is set on achieving them by any means necessary. He is also seemingly new to the television news work, as is seen in the bewildered reactions of others at the channel to his idealistic career mantras he memorized off the internet. And yet, those very mantras when put to use by Louis, reap high rewards and this goes on to create room for even more shock and amazement from his colleagues and rivals, especially Bill Paxton’s Joe. In fact, one of the most shocking scenes in the movie come from the scene of Joe’s accident, where that one look shared between the two explains in volumes the dark and grimy path that Louis is on. The relationship between him and Nina is equally disturbing, as one is at her end, hungry for a steady source of juicy news, while the other desires a relationship based on and as guarantee for his work. Nina feels a part of Louis rubbing off on her after every interaction, taking her to a mental place she both desires to be in, but at the same time loathes. The dedicated work brought in by him entices and leads her on to let him into her mind, as she cannot resist the ratings, which is the bread of every channel director. While it is disturbing to see Louis propose a relationship to Nina in an ever so calm demeanour, negotiating his work with the channel alongside, it is equally disturbing to see Nina talk about Louis as an inspiration to all, toward the end. And all the same time, we cannot take our eyes off Gyllenhaal’s frightening eyes, and cannot resist rooting for him, letting him seep into our minds as well.
It is not wrong to say that Gyllenhaal is the highlight of the movie, without whom the show would probably have been a fail. But then again, that is the case with such thrillers which are told from the viewpoint of the dark protagonist, for he is surely the most interesting part, off-lighting creepiness to everything around him. That is not to say the other elements of the movie aren’t good, the writing is immaculate and the images are stark and realistic in their dark portrayal of the streets of L.A. There were times when I couldn’t stop hoping this had been directed by Fincher, for it seems right up his alley, and the direction would have been tightened to the point of finesse. There are no scenes that feel unnecessary in this fast thriller, and it even provides a satisfying finish to the whole affair. It is an extremely enjoyable movie, and yet not complex in its telling. It is safe to say that the scrawny figure of Louis Bloom, with sunken eyes and a dangerous smile, will remain etched in Hollywood for years.