Nightcrawler is the kind of film that is rarely made anymore, a mainstream Hollywood film that casts a severely critical eye on the media and the idea of American entrepreneurship. It is the harshest examination I’ve seen since Network; a story of an ambitious and dangerously reckless man who takes advantage of a news station that is more concerned with creating a ratings friendly narrative than reporting the news.
We meet Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) just as everyone else meets him; out of nowhere he appears, with no past and hustling for a job while talking a thousand words a minute. He is an ambitious and coldly logical man, driven by a pure capitalist spirit and determined to make himself into a success. One night he pulls over to observe a traffic accident and discovers ‘nightcrawling’, freelance cameramen who use police scanners to chase down crime scenes and get footage to sell off to local news stations. Lou buys a pawnshop camera and scanner and finds instant success in this new vocation. However, it isn’t long before his ambition and his almost sociopathic pursuit of power lead him into the most dangerous and dark parts of the Los Angeles night.
Screenwriter Dan Gilroy (Freejack, The Bourne Legacy) makes a stunning directorial debut here. He presents a dark, wild Los Angeles; full of primal creatures that come out at night. The film’s tone felt closest to a modern west coast Taxi Driver. Indeed during the Q&A after the screening, the audience was drawing some parallels to Travis Bickle. Gyllenhaal is captivating and terrifying as Lou. Rail thin for the role and always with a wide eyed look of a predator, he talks endlessly about his goals and its stomach turning when you realize that he will accomplish what he says, no matter who gets hurt. He is utterly amoral, negotiating bloody crime footage prices without blinking and worse still, Gyllenhaal makes him attractive and charismatic while he does it.
My one concern might be with the title itself. I understand that the people doing the job in real life are called nightcrawlers, but given that there is a Marvel character called Nightcrawler and they’re putting out a bunch of films; I hope no unwitting parent mistakes one for the other. Little kids would need a lot of therapy after taking a two hour journey with Lou.
Nightcrawler opens in theaters October 31st.
Adam Ruhl is a writer and life long Cinephile. He is the Executive
Cinema Editor of Pop Culture Beast’s Austin branch; covering festivals,
conventions, and new releases. When not filing reports, Adam can be
found stalking Alamo Drafthouse Programmers for leads on upcoming
DrafthouseFilms titles. Adam once blocked Harry Knowles entrance to a
theater until he was given extra tickets to a Roman Polanski movie.