In Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver everyone but Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) suspects that he's insane. This makes him a social outcast, a fringe employee and eventually a cold blooded murderer. The job of a taxi driver seemed to be that last refuge for those you lived in a different literal and metaphorical time zone. Writer/director Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler shows that in 38 years, that we can no longer differentiate sociopathy from ambition.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a hustler, desperate to escape the grind of living day to day. When he stumbles across Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) and the niche industry of L.A. crime video journalism, where vultures with video cameras shoot the detritus of L.A nights, he finds his calling. His insatiable desire to be the best leads, and goading from TV-news veteran Nina (Rene Russo), he begins to manipulate what he should be observing.
Jake Gyllenhal is absolutely outstanding as the slimy sociopath Lou. He communicates in a strange jargon that combines management speak and self help that feels like almost every interaction that he's having is a job interview or performance appraisal. It floats between an evasive technique and a hilarious apathetic approach to things like sexual blackmail or wage negotiations. For the entire film no matter what's happening around him, he seems to be able to continue calculating and making a mental list of things that he'll be researching on wikipedia that evening. For rare moments he unleashes the raw incendiary of his being out, and it's fearsome. He's frustrated by how 'normal' people won't simply dance on the strings he's suspended for them.
Rene Russo reeks of desperation. You assume that earlier in her career she was the idealistic, bastion of journalistic integrity, however at this point in her career she just wants the ratings, no matter how sensationalist the content. She's like the anti-Newsroom. Watching her abandon her ethics and spiral into enslavement to Lou's product (and more) is just unreal. Riz Ahmed's Rick is so desperate for any work that he dives into Lou's world with no hesitation. The uneducated and overwhelmed Rick plays as Lou's word fencing partner and in almost every exchange he's being foiled by his own words being turned back on him. Bill Paxton is at his very best when he's playing a spineless sleaze ball. The perfect example being used car salesman Simon from True Lies. In his first interactions with Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) he's rightly suspect of this weasel asking for a job in the middle of the night, on a freeway, beside a flaming car wreck. Loder is doing all he can to posture himself as stony and indifferent; but when you watch him across from Lou's sociopathy, fear and distrust flickers across his eyes.
Gilroy's sprawling L.A is a being whose veins pulsate with lights. Although we're travelling through the entire expanse of the L.A landscape, Gilroy wants L.A to look as we (the audience) have become accustomed to it looking while uncovering new ways to approach it. Cars are the life blood of L.A so once Lou has a foothold in the business he drastically upgrades his rudimentary equipment. His first purchase is a ride 'pimped-out' for fast response. Seeing the gorgeous red Dodge Challenger roar through the Los Angeles night is thrilling. Instead of it being pursued by police it's pursuing the crime and sticking hand held camera footage of varying quality into the personal space of victims, paramedics and police alike. The final choreography of the stunning car chase finale, will command that you're on the edge of your seat.
Nightcrawler is frightening because although at one time it may have satirised the media, it now feels extremely authentic. The scripting has Lou constantly regurgitating carefully plotted lines from self-made millionaire seminars or statistical facts that feel like he's just acquired them from by scanning google searches. And yet it's only with rare pragmatic or street savvy people that he sticks out in this industry. Gilroy approaches Lou's story with an extremely reliable point of view. The audience knows that our protagonist is crazy and ultimately takes the sting out of the story.
Nightcrawler is artful and frighteningly plausible.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Dan Gilroy Written by: Dan Gilroy Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed