Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a driven young man struggling for money and desperate to find a career. When he happens on a road traffic accident on the streets of LA, the camera crew that arrives on the scene and films the whole event fascinates him. Inspired, Lou hires Rick (Riz Ahmed) as an intern, and sets out to make a name for himself as a freelance crime journalist.
Nightcrawler marks the directorial debut of screenwriter Dan Gilroy, and shines a light on the world of video crews that make their money shooting film of violent crime.
Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom as a calculating and unscrupulous character; one that audiences will root for, but find themselves despising. Lou stalks the streets of LA like a vampire; preying on victims and revelling in their blood. Money seems to be the motivator, but it quickly becomes clear that Bloom is motivated by power and gore. Gyllenhaal allows the audience to root for the character – even though he is quickly revealed to be someone who lacks a moral compass – and slowly reveals that there is a lot more darkness and danger underneath the surface of this man, who gets a thrill out of seeing his footage on TV, drags bodies into different places for the sake of a good shot, and regurgitates phrases seemingly gleaned from the pages of self help books; phrases that sound great but in reality, mean little at all.
Rene Russo plays a character as dark and damaged as Lou Bloom, and it is through Nina’s mentorship and encouragement that Bloom is allowed to go to hideous lengths for the sake of a story. Riz Ahmed plays Rick; a young homeless man, so desperate for a job that he agrees to work with Bloom for a mere $30 a night. Ahmed’s performance throws Gyllenhaal’s into stark relief, and it is through the characters’ interactions that we learn more about Lou and the world he has created around himself.
The story, written by Dan Gilroy could be a rather straightforward thriller, but it is through the twists and turns made by Lou Bloom that this becomes a story of LA, and a man who is as twisted and dangerous as the city itself. In fact, Bloom and LA complement one another; LA with its dangerous crime levels, and Lou who feeds off these. It is a parasitic relationship and it is a remarkably funny, gripping and oddly touching story.
As director, Dan Gilroy has created a film that hinges on the relationship between Bloom and LA. Gilroy allows Gyllenhaal to take centre stage, with the rest of the characters orbiting around him. Nightcrawler is dark and atmospheric, and tension is slowly built through the 117 minute running time. Robert Elswit’s cinematography adds to the experience, keeping the film as dark but sparkling as LA itself, with gorgeous sequences at night, smooth and fluid shots of cars and a gentle reminder to the audience that the only thing that matters is what’s on Bloom’s screen.
Nightcrawler is a dark yet surprisingly funny look under the hood of crime video journalism. Gyllenhaal gives his strongest performance in years as the methodical, uncompromising Lou Bloom, and his supporting cast do a beautiful job, Ahmed, in particular, shines through the murky world of the screen. Gilroy’s direction and Elswit’s cinematography combine to form a frightening, dark yet sparkly whole.