Nightcrawler is a harrowing character study about an amoral sociopath with an entrepreneurial spirit and can do attitude climbing up the ranks of freelance video services for the local news by manipulating events (and everyone around him) to suit his ends. The story of Nightcrawler starts off with our villain protagonist Lewis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko, Jarhead) jobless, and trying to make ends meet by selling stolen scrap metal. In the process, Lewis comes across a crime scene and is fascinated by a freelance news crew recording the scene. Lewis tries to get a job with them by is turned down by the owner, Joe (Bill Paxton, Near Dark, Aliens). Lewis pawns a stolen bike for a small camcorder and uses his wily ways and willingness to do what others won’t to go into competition with Joe by making his own videos. He starts to sell the footage to a local news broadcaster, Nina Romina (Renee Russo, Thor, Lethal Weapon 3). From there on, things get increasingly darker, as Louis starts to go extremes for the most compelling footage for bigger pay and more leverage over Nina and her career.
Nightcrawler has been a huge hit for Gyllenhaal and first time director Dan Gilroy. The script and directing are razor sharp; as is Gyllenhaal’s performance, which some have rightfully compared to DeNiro in Taxi Driver. Gyllenhaal’s black, moonsized eyes are just as empty as his characters soul. I watched the film looking for something, some sign of humanity, and find none. And yet, the things he does still manage to shock me with their complete lack of decency, ethics, or morality. The guy is a social chameleon, acting different parts just to get people to do what he wants. For example, he acts like a professional bike rider to up-sell the value on the before-mentioned stolen bike to con a pawn shop owner. There is a certain amount of humor that comes from this because Lewis is so pathetic that most people see right through his charade, and it seems like Lewis almost gives them a begrudging respect for having done so. Nina is a perfect cipher for Lewis to get his tentacles into (and other appendages) as she’s just as morally bankrupt as he is, and so his ruse works. With her willingness to submit to Lewis to propel her career, we spend the film waiting for it all to go increasingly wrong.
The story, direction, and performances are very compelling, but in the very end the story fizzles out in the end from a lack of being able to sustain itself. The film existed in a heightened version of reality from the moment the credits start, but at the end of the film, Nightcrawler abandons the rules of reality itself and Lewis no longer has to manipulate the situations because the script writer has done that for him. As much as I enjoyed it’s commentary on how sensationalist local news can be, I don’t think the events in the film could remotely happen; (i.e. showing a videoed walk through of the aftermath of a home invasion), but is spot on in how the news controls the narrative of the stories. What really irked me is that despite a mountain of evidence against Lewis for crimes committed and a computer just waiting for a warrant to be searched, Lewis walks away into the night with his new production company because evidently the local police conveniently forget how to do their jobs, but mostly because the writer wanted it to be “evil wins lol”. Nightcrawler is going for a “well, that’s life” approach and while I disagree with it’s application in this instance I can understand what it’s going for; after all we do live in a world where such people are both successful and rewarded by society. (i.e. Hillary Clinton is both free, and running to be President). With a tighter ending, the film would have been a modern classic, but all that comes before is phenomenal work and well worth the Oscar nominations Nightcrawler received (and should have won for Jake’s performance).