“I can’t jeopardize my company’s future by retaining an untrustworthy employee,” says Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) to underpaid assistant Rick (Rick Garcia). “You’re crazy,” says Rick. Rick’s right. Lou (who insists on being called “Louis”) is certifiable: wild-eyed, obsessive, a liar and sociopath who, hocking an expensive stolen bicycle for police scanner and cheap video camera, transforms himself from thief to night-time videographer, recording grizzly homicides and bloody smash-ups for local, low-rent LA news channels. “If it bleeds, it leads,” he learns from competitor Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), who sells his own sensational footage. That’s the set-up for this satiric indictment of mindless local TV news.
Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as Louis Bloom, creepy, opportunistic, amoral and repellant, who believes his own propaganda. Using the language of self-help, entrepreneurial infomercials, he tells assistant Rick, “There is no better way to get job security than to prove yourself an indispensable employee.” And, “I hope you will continue to excite us with your enthusiasm for years to come.” His enabler is Nina Romina, LA channel 6 news director — played by Rene Russo — who wants newsreel that “people can’t turn away from.” “Capture the spirit of who we are,” she says. “A white woman running down a street, screaming, with her throat cut.” Rick Garcia is Lou’s hapless, $30-a-night assistant who, too late, recognizes Lou for the sociopath he is: “You’ve got to bring people in,” he says, “speak to them like they were real human beings.” Just what Lou can’t do.
Others in the cast include Bill Paxton as Joe Loder, and TV newscasters Kent Shocknek, Pat Harvey, Sharon Tay, and Bill Seward as themselves.
“Nightcrawler” is a satiric crime drama/thriller, written and directed by Dan Gilroy. It has evocative and beautiful night-time LA photography by Robert Elswit and good performances (especially Gyllenhaal who lost 30 pounds to play gaunt, haunted-looking Lou Bloom). It also has the courage of its convictions, as its bleak ending (not a spoiler) demonstrates. Other films — “Network” (1976) and “Broadcast News” (1987) — have visited TV news, raising questions about morality, propriety and the race for ratings. Here, questions also concern legality and the creation of news stories. There’s irony here, too. “Nightcrawler” contains the graphic, stomach-turning images it condemns. As Hitchcock taught us, film-watching pleasures include voyeurism. Think “Rear Window” and “Psycho.”
Rated R for graphic violence and language, “Nightcrawler” runs 117 minutes. Not for children. A film you’ll want to talk about on the way home.
Not for the faint of heart –
Jake Gyllenhaal is Louis –
An Oscar-worthy part.