The Rumpus Review of Nightcrawler

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Sometimes I think road rage is in the blood of the Angeleno. Granted, this is understandable—my 15-mile commute takes me an hour and a half. My car awash in a devilish red brake light, I fantasize about more creative ways to pay my rent. Perhaps this is why Lou Bloom, Nightcrawler’s well spoken, terrifyingly plausible anti-hero, is so disconcerting.

This is not to say Lou is completely relatable (at least I should hope not). Lou, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, sells stolen scrap metal to get by while he struggles to find employment. Hey, I feel you, Lou. Shit’s hard in LA—morality and monetary needs do not always line up. From the first moments of the film, Lou seems scuzzy, but something about his quiet diligence makes you root for his success. Gyllenhaal’s eye’s are sunken, his skin gaunt and sagging. The actor weighs in about 30 pounds lighter from when he took the role—his character hungry in every sense of the word. This is certainly not the Gyllenhaal I had a plastered on my pre-teen walls, but I still can’t take my eyes off him.

Lou zooms down the freeway, discouraged by his latest scrap sale, when he comes across a car in flames. He pulls over, mesmerized by the event. As two officers pull a woman out of the car’s window, a crude television van rolls up and two disgruntled camera men race to the scene. Lou is wildly intrigued; those dark eyes fixed, his emotion unclear. As the men walk back to their van, Lou makes a play for a job. While some might be disturbed by the event, Lou does not hesitate. Quite the opportunist. The abusive lead videographer [Bill Paxton] barks that he is a freelancer and he has no job and no time for Lou. But despite the unpleasant interaction and the job at hand, Lou sees opportunity. The spark is ignited.

Lou takes to the streets, outdated video camera in hand. It’s almost cute how he thinks he can compete with such equipment. Come on, Lou; the competitors have lenses bigger than your whole camera. It is in these moments that Lou, despite his…well…evil…is endearing to the audience. He may have not have the equipment of his counterparts but he possesses a disregard for others so strong that he gets right up in the action, even if that means interfering with the scene. His drive appeals to us, even if we don’t quite agree with his path. Lou is persistent, opportunistic, business minded—typically “good” qualities in a young man. He is the perfect capitalist. Ah, capitalism.

Mr. Bloom links up with Nina Romina [Rene Russo], a local news director at a Hollywood news station. Russo does a lovely job of playing the sleazy newscaster with no filter or conscience. A wolf with a blonde wig. Nina’s ratings are in the toilet and she is desperate for a break. When Lou walks in with low-quality, but extremely graphic crime footage, Nina sees $$$, and Lou sees someone else whom he can exploit. And exploit he does, all over the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area. Nina is blood thirsty for white, wealthy victims, slaughtered at the hands of any available minority. Whatever it takes to have housewives fearing for their lives, glued to the newscast, lest they find themselves “running down the street with their throat slit.”

Lou’s skills become more refined and his pockets fatter. He is not concerned with the morality of Nina’s requests, as he is not concerned with any human emotion. “What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” Lou explains. But this does not keep Lou from hiring an assistant. It’s hard to read the GPS while cruising 30 miles over the speed limit. Enter Rick. Poor Rick. Rick can’t find a job either and is desperate for anything. Lou is attracted to his desperation like a shark to blood. Thirty dollars a night seals the deal and Rick joins Lou on his hunt.

The two cruise through the city at night, the city of Los Angeles reflected in their windshield. Nina eats up the footage, and soon the team is cruising in a new red Dodge Challenger with updated gear and an even stronger sense of entitlement. Lou takes to instigating scenes so he can get those money shots—moving corpses here, interfering with crime investigations there. Pretty fucked up stuff. No one can get between him and his booming business. Perhaps this is where I lose a real connection to Lou. When he begins to lead a violent, even more morally corrupt ring, I wonder how I was ever rooting for this fellow. He crosses every line that could be crossed in his pursuit of “journalism.” I am still transfixed with his character, but I am now disgusted. But what does it matter—as long as I keep watching?

Gyllenhaal is a perfect sociopath. His calm and calculated demeanor is accentuated by the hollow look in his eyes. He delights in the demise of his peers. He has no remorse. Sounds like the kids I went to college with. But Lou’s antisocial attitude is his strongest quality. “Who am I? I’m a hard worker. I set high goals and I’ve been told that I’m persistent.” He will never miss an opportunity. The delightfully sickening part about Lou is that he seems so sensible. He rationalizes even the most unsavory actions. I know there are a million evil Lou’s out there just waiting to make a quick buck at someone else’s expense. Lurking in the shadows, praying for my demise. It’s horrifying, really. But Lou only sees his brutality as best practice. His honest goal is to further his business; it is as simple as that in his warped mind.

If I was going to give this film an arbitrary star rating it would be somewhere between 5 and 20 stars. I typically judge a film by how many times I check the time, and I did not check my phone for a good 10 minutes after the movie ended! (Which is saying something after I counted every minute I sat in Interstellar.) I’m a sucker for the anti-hero. I’m also a sucker for good movies and everything about this movie was solid. The imagery constantly interesting and engaging. Gilroy uses both digital video and 35mm. Picture constantly matches the dark, urban, dystopian tone. Muted horror. Taxi-driver-esque. The writing is also spot on with nothing belabored. The horror is slowly built as Bloom’s character progresses. Gyllenhaal’s performance is subtle but petrifying.

Perhaps not a happy ending, but that would also depend on your definition of a happy ending. I delight in the disturbing plausibility. Perhaps I am the reason people such as Lou and Nina have jobs. And perhaps that is the creepiest aspect of Dan Gilroy’s debut film. “Viewer discretion is advised” is less a warning and more a challenge. How much will we, the viewers, tolerate? We are all just as guilty as Mr. Bloom himself. We devolve right along side with the media. Gilroy has established himself as a directorial force to be reckoned with and Gyllenhaal has presented us with the best performance of his career. I am looking forward to what they both have in store for us.


Katie Neuhof is a filmmaker from Baltimore, MD. She currently lives in Los Angeles. More from this author →