Out of all the horrifying titles I subjected myself to in 2014, no film boasted a more sinister persona than Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as renegade videographer Louis Bloom in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. The actor digs deep and uncovers one of society’s most dangerous minds, yet he does so by hiding an unsettling psychopath underneath a cool, calm, and collected “anybody” who is five steps ahead of the game. He’s no Patrick Bateman, assimilating through charm and charisma, but Gyllenhaal’s sick puppeteering finds an even more evil level that a naked, chainsaw-swinging Bateman simply can’t compete with. It’s a shame that Gyllenhaal’s name isn’t being tossed around with the other deserving Oscar nominees, because the transformation he undertakes is no easy feat. Not since Elijah Woods’ leading role in Maniac have I been so horrified by one deceptively stable man.
Gilroy’s exploration of shock-ya journalism reveals a host of unsettling topics, but Gyllenhaal’s performance is much bigger than the social dissection being executed on screen. Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is as vile as they come, but his unparalleled access to crime scenes and illegal actives becomes a bit suspect as the film embellishes upon itself. Bloom builds his reputation on always getting the most graphic first-access to fires, robberies, accidents – anything that involves human suffering – but his increasingly illegal actions never balance out with proper repercussions.
Chalk it up to grit and determination, but Gilroy’s screenplay spins into an outlandish land where detectives can be outsmarted by some laptop editing and good-old-fashion moxie. For all the clever quips and hauntingly poignant remarks made about today’s sick viral obsession (YouTubers fighting for internet dominance by posting nothing but “fails” and morally horrendous content), a few ludicrous liberties are taken that lose what gritty realism Gyllenhaal attempts to establish.
Then again, this is Jake Gyllenhaal at his absolute best. Never has the actor been able to achieve such a layered dramatization, as Gilroy offers Gyllenhaal the chance to portray an underground Don of sorts with hints of neurosis, instability and improper guidance. Nightcrawler is strangely about making it in America through back-breaking work and blind ambition, but this embodiment is more an American nightmare thanks to Gyllenhaal’s paralyzing command over horrified audiences. Louis Bloom lures you in with a soft, socially awkward demeanor that makes him seem like a wounded animal, but his eyes reveal something dark – something unsettling. As Bloom becomes more brazen with his actions, dictating how he’s able to manipulate whoever he wants without even flinching, Gyllenhaal proves what a tour de force powerhouse he’s capable of being.
Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, and Riz Ahmed round out the main supporting cast, inserted as nothing but pawns in Bloom’s overarching game. That might be the most terrifying aspect of all – the way Gyllenhaal’s character toys with actual lives while never seeming to be bothered one iota. Take Paxton’s character Joe Loder for example. Being in direct competition with Bloom, it’s Loder who eventually finds himself with cameras being shoved in his own bleeding face after a suspicious accident. Or what about Russo’s show producer, Nina? Falling prey to Bloom’s shifty appearance, she finds herself paying exorbitant amounts of money to keep his video content exclusive. These are the moments where Gyllenhaal’s brilliance shines, as he’s able to seamlessly turn normal conversations into spiteful accusations and exploitative requests fueled only by personal gain.
While Nightcrawler becomes more of a inconceivable extreme than a desperate warning, Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit are able to capture the pulse-pounding lifestyle of people like Louis Bloom in vibrant and energetic ways. As he whips around busy highways in a flashy new ride (how didn’t he ever get arrested?), the camera pans and cuts with the same ferocity found in Gyllenhaal’s beady eyes. For a film that takes place primarily in the dark, Elswit is able to present colorfully attractive imagery through blurred lights, gruesome accidents and focused framing, and the Blu-Ray provides an equally sleek watch in 1080p. Nightcrawler is dark, dismal, and grotesquely seedy, yet Gilroy is somehow able to romanticize such horrors by spinning them into a story about capturing the American dream – something Gyllenhaal ably turns into pure terror.
As for the Special Features, here’s what you’ll find lurking in the shadows:
- If It Bleeds, It Leads: Making Nightcrawler
- Feature Commentary With Dan Gilroy, Tony Gilroy, And John Gilroy
For all the possible extra features Nightcrawler could have contained, this Blu-Ray release is as bare-bones as they come. The only real featurette is a “Behind the Scenes” bit that splices some production feed with interviews from the film’s press tour, making for a short talking-heads segment. Gyllenhaal touches on how he saw Bloom as a coyote of sorts, picking at lifeless carcasses for his own survival, and we hear other cast/crew members talk about the transformation we witness on screen. We also meet the Raishbrooks – real “stringers” who helped Dan Gilroy understand the world of Nightcrawler from the perspective of two professionals in the game right now (who swear they’ve never done anything half as bad as Bloom). The segment is very light and airy though, and with nothing else but a commentary, there’s nothing extra that begs for your money.
Mix the charm of Jim Jones with the impishness of a Jehovah’s Witness, and you’ve got Louis Bloom. Drawing inspiration from the 20th-century photographer who started the profession, a man named Weegee, Gyllenhaal morphs into this sleazy creature of the night who preys on the weak for fame and fortune, extorting his way to the top. Louis Bloom is a modern day supervillain, whose greatest power is acting as a chameleon who appears chipper, cheery, and highly intelligent at first glance, but what hides underneath his clean-cut facade will chill you to the bone. Gyllenhaal is damn-near masterful in Nightcrawler, and while his antics are a little cartoonish, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better sociopathic character in the last decade. All you have to do is look in his eyes and you’ll understand.
Jake Gyllenhaal is better than the sum of Nightcrawler's parts, but the film is still a riveting, horrific exploitation that blurs the lines between American greed and the American dream.