Jake Gyllenhaal is having one hell of a year. First it was his dual role in Denis Villeneuve’s Enemy (my current front-runner for film of the year), and now he strikes gold for the second time in the remarkable Nightcrawler. It’s an edge-of-your-seat, fascinating exploration of morality in a society that rewards go-getters without questioning what they had to do to get to the top.
The film follows Louis Bloom, a self-educated, opportunistic petty criminal who finds himself absorbed by the world of Los Angeles crime journalism. It’s heavy-handed to a fault in its indictment of broadcast television, really serving more as crowd service than as actual scathing commentary. Seedy news producers compromising their journalistic integrity for the best scoop elicits groans of disgust from the audience, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been said better before. It does, however, function incredibly as a neo-noir thriller, anchored by what might be Gyllenhaal’s best performance to date. He’s reminiscent of De Niro’s Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver as a misguided antihero; Bloom is infinitely watchable, both mesmerizing and haunting at the same time. As he dives deeper into the underworld of nightcrawling, it becomes apparent that he will stop at nothing to find success.
The supporting cast is fantastic as well, especially Bill Paxton in the minor, but critical role as the sleazy veteran nightcrawler who is Bloom’s main competition. First-time director Dan Gilroy gets the best from all of his performers, and his script is razor-sharp in its efficiency. There’s not a whole lot of fat I would trim given the chance. The cinematography is stunning, showcasing Los Angeles and all of its grimy excess. Without spoiling anything, I will say that my hands were shaking for the entire duration of the climax.
Nightcrawler is the kind of movie that leaves you feeling like you need a hot shower. Louis Bloom is a despicable human, but there’s still a part of me that can’t help but admire him, and that’s why the film is so successful. It strikes the perfect balance between condemnation and glorification of its characters and the culture that surrounds them. Bloom is clearly a sociopath, but what does that say about the society that rewards him?