The Best Kind of Creepy Crawler
To say that I dislike Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor wouldn’t be fully truthful; I generally don’t like the types of roles he plays. He’s very much like Tom Cruise to me. Cruise is a guy who excels at playing weird and villainous (Interview with the Vampire and Collateral for example) but mostly plays heroic roles (just about anything else he’s ever in). Hollywood at large has tried to make Jake Gyllenhaal into some sort of “hunky” matinee star several times (Prince of Persia, The Day After Tomorrow, Love and Other Drugs) and it just really doesn’t work. He’s much better at being weird and creepy, and Nightcrawler allows him to do this in spades.
Previous to Nightcrawler, my favorite performance of Gyllenhal’s was definitely in Zodiac. He played Robert Graysmith in the movie, and although Graysmith wasn’t a weird character per se, he was definitely obsessive and single minded. This worked to Gylenhal’s strengths and the movie over all was carried by his performance. Nightcrawler is carried by his performance as Lou Bloom who, like Graysmith, becomes obsessed with something. That’s pretty much where the similarities between Graysmith and Bloom end.
Nightcrawler opens as Bloom is busted by a security guard for stealing copper from a work site. Instead of coming with the guard like he is asked, Bloom incapacitates him and steals his watch. We find out throughout the next few scenes that Bloom is a (really) small time crook whom is looking for a direction in his life, be it criminal or not. He eventually stumbles upon a wreck late at night where officers are working to get a woman out of a car which has caught fire. There are a couple of guys there videoing the rescue and after it’s over, Bloom asks one of them (Joe Loder, played by Bill Paxton) some questions about what they do with the videos (sale them to the highest bidder). In no time at all, Bloom steals a bike to afford to buy a video camera from a pawn shop and sets out to film.
After getting up-close footage of the aftermath of a carjacking, Bloom sells the footage to a local TV station. Nina (Renee Russo), the morning news director, informs him that they are mostly looking for crimes that happen in affluent areas as opposed to high crime zones. Bloom buys a police scanner, sets out to learn the various police codes, and even manages to con his way into hiring an “intern” named Rick (Riz Ahmed) at thirty dollars a night.
The twists and turns that Nightcrawler takes from this point are sometimes baffling but always in line with the character of Lou Bloom. Bloom is a guy that the audience sympathizes with at the beginning of the film, but that sympathy slowly starts to unravel as his true nature shows itself. Gyllenhal plays the character as likeable but there is always something else simmering under the surface. You just don’t trust the guy, and by the end of the movie you understand exactly why that is.
Rene Russo is great in the film. Russo is an actress that doesn’t seem to have the cache that she once did but it is not due to any lack of talent. She’s just as good now as she was twenty years ago. The girlfriend made the comment that she was “perfect” for the role of Nina and I’m going to have to agree.
Riz Ahmed is also really good as Rick. Rick is a truly sad character who needs money and gets taken in by Bloom’s promise of future greatness. As Bloom begins his descent into amorality, Rick is along for the ride and is dumbfounded by it.
Bill Paxton also has a good turn playing a convincing sleaze ball. Paxton sees the potential in Bloom and eventually offers him a job with his growing business. Bloom refuses and eventually takes vengeance on Paxton for even attempting to compete.
The film is written and directed by Dan Gilroy. Gilroy has been a screenwriter for years, mostly known for Two for the Money, and this is his directing debut. I have no idea if Gilroy is a fan of Paul Schrader (writer of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull) or not but Nightcrawler reminds me of something Schrader would write. Lou Bloom as a character has shades of Travis Bickle for sure and the subject matter (obsession, media violence, amorality), are some of Schrader’s favorites. This is by no means a negative critique of Nightcrawler by the way; I am a pretty big fan of Schrader’s.
Nightcrawler is a very good movie but it isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for something that’s breezy and light then this ain’t for you. However, if you enjoy films that take place at the fringes of society and might make you a little uncomfortable at times, then Nightcrawler is right up your alley. It’s kind of like a weird step-brother of one of my favorite films of the last decade, Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. They both deal with the criminal element, Los Angeles is a main character in both films, and neither one of them is what they appear on the surface. But Driver (Ryan Gosling) is a lot more likeable than Lou Bloom. Don’t take my word for it; watch both of them. You’ll thank me for it.
Until next time…