Director: Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
As news outlets cut back their staff and refuse to pay overtime, late night footage gathering has become the realm of private operators. Known as nightcrawlers or stringers, these police-chasing cameramen listen in to their police scanners for car accidents, drive-by shootings, armed robberies and homicides, aiming to be first on the scene so they can sell their footage to highest bidding news network. With his darkly satirical Nightcrawler, writer-director Dan Gilroy takes us into this peculiar subculture.
Louis Bloom is an unemployed hustler, making a living by stealing and selling scraps and building materials. One evening, he happens upon a horrific car accident on the freeway and is fascinated by the nightcrawler who pulls up, takes a few seconds of gory footage and then disappears into the night. Seeing an opportunity, Louis buys himself a video camera and a police scanner and sets off on his new career. A fast-talker who sounds like a mix between a self-help book and an infomercial, Louis convinces the naive and desperate Rich to come on board as an unpaid intern and before you know it he is the intriguing new player in the industry. But Louis’s ruthlessness and unchecked ambition sees him willing to cross ethical lines in the name of good footage, and what starts with moving some items to create more compelling shots soon becomes something much more dangerous.
This film is built around a compelling lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, who appears in every scene of the film. Not a hero but also not a villain, Louis Bloom manages to be equal parts disturbing and disarming. Louis is overly polite and uncomfortably intense in his friendliness. He is a lonely man in need of connection, but incapable of naturally achieving it. Having lost a significant amount of weight for the role, Gyllenhaal’s hollowed out features take on an animalistic quality which is matched by an unblinking intensity in his performance.
Nightcrawler doesn’t judge Louis. The film is less of an indictment of his character than it is of the system that rewards him. When Louis proudly delivers his first piece of footage to Channel 6, he is given the rundown from Nina Romani, the news director on the graveyard shift. White deaths are worth more than black deaths, wealthy is worth more than poor. What they want is urban crime creeping into the suburbs. The jackpot, he is told, is a wealthy white woman running down her suburban street, screaming having had her throat cut. This is ratings-driven news based on hype and hysteria. If a sociopath is defined by their lack of human empathy, surely the industry who lives off Bloom’s material is every bit at sociopathic as the man that gathers it.
Dan Gilroy is best known as a screenwriter and his screenplay here is really strong. What prevents this film from being just another anti-hero story is that Gilroy approaches his narrative from a different angle. He envisioned Louis Bloom’s story as a success story, in which an unemployed man, through his own determination and entrepreneurial spirit, founds his own business and builds it into a thriving company. As such, the film becomes a perverse take on the American capitalist dream.
An independently financed film with a budget small enough ($8.5 million) that it was free from the usual constraints and rules of Hollywood filmmaking, Nightcrawler is an unsettling but compelling piece of satire anchored by a brilliant lead performance.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Nightcrawler? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.