Sunday, December 14, 2014


When we meet Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) in the opening scene of Nightcrawler, we come face to face with something less man than creature.  His eyes are wide, unblinking; the type of distinctive feature you'd expect to find in a nocturnal animal, and Louis is just that.  The first scene presents him as a scavenger in the process of stealing from a construction site in the dead of night so that he can resell the goods. He takes everything, we learn.  Fencing, manhole covers, scraps of this and that.  It's the type of crime that reads as perhaps petty, but which could also be defensibly seen as an act of desperation.  This is what Louis specializes in, it turns out.  Not the theft so much as working the system from its slimy underbelly.  He thrives in the darkness, looks for loopholes that allow him to avoid real human contact, and turns them to his advantage.  That same evening he stumbles upon a car crash and watches as a freelance camera crew pushes their way through the emergency vehicles to get footage of the suffering victim.  He asks them questions. Not many, but just enough to understand that there's money to be made from this type of savagery.  If it bleeds, it leads, he's told, and we need only look at Louis' eyes to understand that this is the work he was meant for.  

Soon enough, Bloom has equipped himself with a used camcorder and a police scanner. He's got a game plan and the right kind of slick-talking sociopathy to make things work.  Bloom talks himself up, periodically, as a sort of genuine businessman. He follows the model of what he thinks a successful person looks like, and suggests to some that he is already that and to others that he hopes one day to reach their level of professionalism.  It's a startling ploy, on screen, and one Gyllenhaal pulls off flawlessly with each new permutation. Playing Bloom involves a tightrope act of callousness.  The character is above all frightening is his detachment from human emotion, but the film asks us to follow him and, surprisingly often, to find dark humor in his sickness.  To that end, we have to be willing to follow Bloom and believe that he is able to draw others in, and Gyllenhaal shows us how.  While Bloom always maintains the unsettling eyes and aggressive body language of his character, he manages a disconnect in voice.  Consequently, we see what his "victims" might: a flash of faux vulnerability here, a touch of sycophancy, a heartening note of self-confidence.  As Bloom lets others know that he's ambitious, a fast-learner, it's not particularly surprising that they encourage him: he's gawky, awkward, easily mistakable as the type of personality with drive, but maybe not teeth.    
As Bloom's character and his new line of work blend, Nightcrawler builds into a repulsive commentary on media voyeurism that pushes itself to new -- unlikely-- levels of news station depravity.  It has a lot to say, and while the absurdity of the situations begins to read here and there more like broad satire than concentrated narrative, its telling of the story is gripping from beginning to end.  That Nightcrawler uses late night Los Angeles in a way that hearkens back to the grit of 70s New Hollywood - specifically the seedy cruising of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver - gives it a special kind of advantage.  It plays like a movie temporally dislocated just enough so that we do and do not recognize the news programming and logic of Bloom's new found world.  In the end though, it's Gyllenhaal who makes this film, and Louis Bloom is a surprising, memorable character who seems to transform our interpretation of the events on screen.  There's something creepily charismatic about Bloom, so much so that even as we watch him carry-out near stomach-turning unethical acts, we're willing to go along for the ride if only to see how he manages to talk himself out of possible repercussions.  

1 comment:

  1. I love this film.. man.. so good. I'm itching to see it again after reading your review. :)


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