The main protagonist in the film “Nightcrawler,” Lou Bloom, is a loner, thief, and hustler, portrayed in an engrossing manner by Oscar nominated and BAFTA winner, Jake Gyllenhaal (Southpaw). Little is learned about the character’s background throughout the movie. One thing that is known, is that he is driven to make money; it is something he looks to gain through any duplicitous means necessary. At the start of the film, the viewer is shown Lou cutting copper fencing, which he will later sell. He is stopped in the act by a security guard (Michael Papajohn) who he beats up; adding insult to injury, he also takes the man’s watch. A short time later, after selling his stolen material to the owner of a scrapyard (Marco Rodriguez), he asks the man if he can have a job with his company. The request is met with a prompt rejection; the scrapyard owner informing Lou that he doesn’t hire thieves.
While driving back to the small apartment where he lives, Lou comes across a car accident. Getting out to take a closer look, he notices more than just the two highway patrol officers, who are saving a woman from her burning vehicle. He picks up on the fact that there are two men filming the incident, in order to profit from it by selling the footage to one of the local, Los Angeles news stations. Lou asks the man who appears to be in charge, Bill Paxton’s (Big Love) character, Joe Loder, for a job. Once again he is turned down. At that moment, the idea comes to Lou that he should go into the same business as Loder. The next day, after stealing a bicycle, he pawns it for cash, a video camera and a police scanner. As time passes, the equipment he uses to do his work will change to more modern technology. He will also trade in his weathered looking, Toyota Tercel, for a red, Dodge Challenger SRT. (As an aside: Jake Gyllenhaal lost twenty pounds for the film by working out regularly, as well as running or biking to the set; Gyllenhaal felt the gaunt appearance was the appropriate look for his character).
The tension filled “Nightcrawler” marks the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy), who also wrote the screenplay. Gilroy received an Academy Award nomination for Best Writing, Original Screenplay for the film. The movie, which is part action, crime, and thriller, premiered on September 5, 2014 at the Toronto International Film Festival.
After getting some usable footage, Bloom takes it to Rene Russo’s (Thor) character, Nina Romina, who is the news director of one of the local stations in Los Angeles. As it turns out, Nina is looking for anything that will help raise her last place ratings. Lou might just provide the answer. Nina sets down some ground rules as to what does and does not attract viewers to the screen, as well as what the station will pay for. An example Nina uses as to the type of story that generates the best ratings is as follows: “Think of our news cast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”
Lou goes out to attempt to secure footage which contains carnage. He has officially entered the world of ‘nightcrawling’ where every communication that comes over the police radio, every murder, and every accident, could equal big dollars for the first person of Lou’s ilk to capture all of the horrific details on film. Helping Lou on his nightly outings is Rick (Riz Ahmed). At first, Lou attempts to hire Rick as his intern, but Rick, who for all intents and purposes is homeless, can’t take a job for no money, so thirty dollars a night is agreed upon. Lou uses Rick as his navigator, having him calling out the directions off of the GPS on his cell phone, while he drives at insane speeds in order to be the first on the scene. Later, as Lou gets further entrenched in the world of ‘nightcrawling’ he will use Rick as his second cameraman, as well as ask him to do things that will require Rick to abandon any morals and ethics he possesses. (As an aside: In order to prepare for their roles, Gyllenhaal and Ahmed went out with people who ‘nightcrawl’ for a living).
Lou is not one to be content with just arriving first on the scene to capture the news. He crosses ethical boundaries by manipulating crime scenes. In one instance, he moves a body to get better footage, in another, he enters a house, where atrocities have been committed, and he does so without the permission of law enforcement. Lou is determined to be the best at what he does, and remove any obstacles that stand in the way of achieving that goal.
Is there anything that Lou will not do in order to advance himself in the world of sensationalist television news? Do his law breaking activities eventually catch up with him? What punishment, if any, does he receive if and when they do? Will Rick and Nina stay with Lou because the ratings success and income he begins to generate for each them is just too much for them to walk away from? What is Lou’s ultimate goal in terms of his new found career? Those questions will be seen through to their conclusion by the end of the film.
“Nightcrawler” is an interesting character study that makes a viewer think along the way as to where several of the film’s characters, especially Lou Bloom, will ultimately wind up. The movie takes time to build in terms of tone and tension. Once it does, there is not much let up in regard to the action, as well as the feeling of underlying dread that, at any moment, unscrupulous Lou will out sleaze his previous actions. I didn’t see “Nightcrawler” when it was in theaters, but I am glad I took the under two hours to watch it on Netflix last evening.