Nightcrawler surprised me. I had read the reviews on a few sites and knew it was good, but it also looked like the kind of dark thing I’ve been trying to avoid lately. A veteran of some pretty weird and extreme cinema, I wasn’t interested in spending 90 minutes with a Jake Gyllenhaal who keeps dead babies in his freezer or something. I barely leave the house as it is.
But as I said, it surprised me. For one thing, although it explores the pathology of sociopaths, it wasn’t as violent as I thought it would be. Gyllenhaal’s character of Lou Bloom is certainly a dangerous person, incapable of empathizing and soon begins leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, but the movie is almost like an origin story for a serial killer who hasn’t quite gotten started yet. Instead, it posits something even scarier – not a killer who hunts and pursues prey, but an opportunistic predator a little lower down on the food chain. Bloom is the kind of predator who has the patience to cultivate relationships and then strike when people are at their most vulnerable. In the Wiki entry, the filmmakers said that they were trying to characterize Bloom as a jackal, and I think they really succeeded. Some opportunistic predators are the last thing prey sees before they die, just as happens in the story.
The story is thin but more than balanced by the brilliant characterizations and performances. As mentioned, Gyllenhaal plays Bloom, a sociopathic autodidact who aggregates data like an algorithm, a metaphor fitting for the internet age without being overbearing. Just like Gmail doesn’t understand the context of some of the weirder terms in my personal emails (true story: years ago in my Google ads sidebar an ad for a white supremacist website came up because I was lamenting the existence of neo-nazis- No Gmail, that was wrong) Bloom fails to understand meaning or context. A junk metal scrapper and small-time thief, he wanders across the path of some freelance videographers and scents opportunity. Soon he’s haunting the police radio band and rushing to the scenes of crimes, sometimes before the first responders themselves arrive (another horrifying point, how late the cops sometimes are to the party) and capturing all the gory details with no concern for personal boundaries or the law.
He hires an employee played by Riz Ahmed, a sort of shiftless stoner guy. I’d never heard of Ahmed before but I loved the vague, ‘wait what’ tone of his performance. I hope he goes far. The scenes where they’re tearing around L.A. in Bloom’s sweet red SRT (and somehow not being noticed by the cops) are so well-done.
Rene Russo, perfectly capturing the world-weary newscaster with decades of bad road behind her as Nina Romina, is Bloom’s connect for buying footage. Although she senses the sickness behind the smile, she needs his footage and can’t cut him off, and soon finds herself strong-armed into a “relationship” with him.
As I said, the trope’s familiar but the strength of the performances saves it. If you’re going to have a film about a sociopath, your lead has to have the right kind of eyes, and Gyllenhaal does.
Bloom has studied human behavior and empathy, and on the one hand he is absolutely earnest in his desire to please Romina. He knows all of the notes of the symphony but none of the meaning, and everything he does is calculated to benefit himself, so it makes sense that he really believes he can help her, because by extension he’s helping himself. Of course that’s not the problem; the problem is that he is forcing her into a relationship with him and leaving quite a trail of bodies in his wake.
BAH. There was a scene that I can’t find a .gif of that is just hilarious and shows the weirdly playful side of the movie, and it occurs during their disastrous and deeply unsettling “date.” Ah well! I’m curious to know if other people laughed the way I did at a certain line.
Bill Paxton shows up as a competitor of Bloom’s, who is obnoxious at first but comes to recognize Bloom’s talent and suggests a partnership, which Bloom blows off.
Look again at that gif up above. Look at the beautiful eyes, the self-assuredness, the complete confidence that Bloom emanates: He is right and she is wrong, he knows what’s best, and she just needs to accept it. Sociopaths are known for their charm and charisma.
Now look at this:
I hate that I made such a pat point, but it really is amazing, his performance. He was nominated for a Golden Globe, but not an Oscar. There are so many great, passionate actors in the world! I would give them all Oscars if I could! Heh, and then everyone would be special so no one would be special.
Anyhoodle, Nightcrawler is an absolutely brilliant film. It’s a modern noir take on a generation raised by journalism and the internet without being preachy, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for fans of dark humor and incisive social commentary. Since they are both about sociopaths, it inevitably draws comparisons with films like Taxi Driver and American Psycho, with good reason.
Nightcrawler is available on Instant Watch.