Jake Gyllenhaal delivers a performance to die for in Nightcrawler – a topical and deeply disturbing look at the darker side of TV news
The camera pans over a dusk-veiled Los Angeles, catching in its frame empty streets, shadowy palm trees and the roar of goods trains. By the rail side, a man with dark, sunken eyes is removing lengths of chain-link fence with a pair of bolt-cutters and throwing them into the back of his car.
A highway patrolman pulls up, lights flashing. He wants to see ID. The man steps into the light and hands over his wallet, smiling, but the patrolman asks too many questions.
The smile evaporates, and the officer is viciously beaten to the ground.
This is how we are introduced to Lou Bloom, created by writer-director Dan Gilroy and played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Bloom is cold, distant, smart-talking, and prone to bouts of schizophrenic violence – think American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman crossed with Ryan Gosling in Drive.
It is Gyllenhaal’s performance that carries the brunt of this film. His skeletal looks are a result of losing 20 lbs before filming, and his method acting is exceptional. It is no easy task to play a psychopath, especially one that is screwed up in such a way that he can easily rationalise utterly amoral situations using lessons from an online business course.
A brief encounter with a team of “stringers” (or graveyard-shift video news cameramen) sets Bloom on the path to video news reporting. He buys a video camera on store credit and goes out to compete with the other local “nightcrawlers”, getting his first paid piece of footage by forcing his way onto the scene of a shooting and filming the victim bleeding to death on a stretcher.
From there his efforts to find stories makes him perpetrate increasingly disturbing acts – moving bodies around before the police arrive to get “the perfect framing”, breaking into a dead person’s house to film bullet holes in their fridge. His actions only get more unsavoury as the story continues.
Aside from the storyline and the acting, the cinematography is also beautifully handled. Chief cinematographer and Academy award-winner Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood, Magnolia) paints a visually arresting scene with every sweep of the lens in a film that is for the most part shot at night, in dark newsrooms and barely-lit apartments. The action sequences are well-choreographed and visceral, effectively distancing the viewer from the events on-screen while involving them in the outcome, the same way someone behind a camera might be.
Apart from Gyllenhaal, who grounds the film in his smooth-talking, sociopathic persona, plaudits are deserved for the supporting actors. Riz Ahmed, Rene Russo and Michael Hyatt all add humanity and conscience to a dark storyline, reminding us of the devastating effects of Bloom’s unscrupulous night-time activities.
Ahmed’s performance, while enjoyable as Rick (Gyllenhaal’s less-than-trusty assistant), is a bit lacklustre at certain points in the film – it is a little difficult to believe that he is homeless and destitute when he comes to Bloom for a job interview.
Nightcrawler is well worth a trip to the cinema for any number of reasons (primarily Jake Gyllenhaal’s entertainingly bloody-minded acting), but prepare yourself – this is not a filmwith a happy resolution.
Nightcrawler is in cinemas from October 31 nationwide.