Nightcrawler starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo

The plot of Nightcrawler doesn’t sound particularly interesting on paper. It isn’t chasing a murderer or trying to hunt down a kidnapper, nor does it really have any mystery at all. It’s about a man who videotapes accidents to sell to local news networks in time for the AM news cycle. A nightcrawler.

And that might be why such a profession hasn’t been touched yet for a major movie. It isn’t mainstreamed and the job itself is almost too easy to use in a story. It practically writes itself.

But Nightcrawler goes beyond the predictable and focuses primarily on the character of Louis Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal.

Lou is unemployed, socially awkward and seemingly obsessed with the process of gaining employment, specifically the qualities of the job interview. When his prospects for finding a job come up short, he’s turned onto the world of ‘nightcrawling’ after he stumbles upon a fatal car accident and sees a man in action (Bill Paxton) recording footage uncomfortably up-close.

Once he gets his own camera and police scanner, he’s on the scene recording poor quality footage that he tries to sell to a network. It’s here he meets Nina (Rene Russo) and they strike up a working relationship as Lou’s experience and reputation grows. He soon hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), and together they work the night scene chasing ambulances and racing ahead of police.

While Nina instructs Lou to capture a certain kind of footage – “if it bleeds, it leads” – the film takes an exaggerated approach to the sensationalism of the morning news. It helps in further emphasizing Lou’s persona and we see more into who he is. Determined to succeed no matter the cost.

Gyllenhaal’s performance gets increasingly creepier as the movie progresses, making you all the more uncomfortable. Lou’s way of looking at his own career choices are seemingly opposing to how we would see them morally, but for everything he does, it’s clear he has his reasons and it makes it that much more striking because we also see them and understand.

There were points I was reminded of Anthony Perkins’ portrayal of Norman Bates in Psycho, with much of that due to the lighting that brought heavier emphasis to Jake’s bulging, curious eyes with their darkened outline and his gaunt, stoney expression. He did it so well that it may be hard to look at him again without being reminded of how well he pulled off being incredibly creepy.

It’s unfortunate that Nightcrawler isn’t more well-known, probably because it lacks the action, explosions or romance to make it so. This is the type of role that can define a career – although it’s unlikely Jake would want to be known as a sociopath who succeeds by flying just enough under the radar, at least we know his abilities stretch far enough that he’s capable of pulling off the next generation of creep-next-door.
Four stars

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