Set in the grimy world of nocturnal TV news "stringing" - apparently nightcrawling was invented for the film, and it obviously makes for a more appealing title than "stringer" - Nightcrawler explores the dark side of the American Dream as an unhinged young man literally does whatever it takes to achieve his goals. It's a ruthless tale of capitalism in its most extreme form and not for the faint-hearted.
Taking centre stage amongst the proceedings is a career high performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. His portrayal of the morally dubious, emotionally apathetic Lou Bloom has been favourably compared with some of cinema's iconic/controversial figures - Travis Bickle, Daniel Plainview, Patrick Bateman to name a few - but stands on its own (blood covered) feet as a deliciously dark inhabitation of a seedy character. It's night and day from the one dimensional teen of The Day After Tomorrow or the archetypal hero of The Prince of Persia, and surely confirms Gyllenhaal's status as one of the most interesting actors working today. His A-list leading man looks would make it easy for him to pick parts that require him to simply go through the motions, or do a blockbuster type role every year, but kudos to him in that he seeks challenging projects to stretch his abilities.
Neither fully sociopathic or psychopathic, Lou Bloom is a chilling character that cannot be easily pinned down. He's awkward but not completely antisocial; proactive and intelligent despite a lack of conventional schooling (his education seems to come largely from the internet and online business courses). He speaks with a well mannered enunciation but laced with a hint of menace just beneath the surface when called upon. His gaunt appearance and bug eyes is reminiscent of a young Nicholas Cage without the unnecessary OTT theatrics (save for one scene which is the only time we really see Bloom lose the veneer of control).
Like most films featuring such a unique and memorable lead character (e.g. Taxi Driver, American Psycho), there is a blackly humorous streak that is present throughout Nightcrawler, mostly emanating from the character's traits and behaviour in certain situations. This is none more evident than when Lou continually manipulates cerebrally inferior 'employee' Rick with a combination of his penchant for BS and "business slogan" speak, or initially muscling in on the "nightcrawling" scene with an entry level, domestic camcorder and clapped out banger.
The other key players of Nightcrawler are Riz Ahmed (as the aforementioned Rick) and Rene Russo as veteran news station producer Nina whose approval of his (ethically questionable) methods inspires Lou to make greater strides in his chosen field. For the latter, it's the meatiest part she's had in years - being the director's wife can't do any harm either - and it's fascinating to see the shift in the balance of power between Lou and Nina as the film progresses. In a world where empathy is in short supply, Riz Ahmed's Rick provides the voice of reason and moral conscience of the story. Bill Paxton also pops up as Lou Bloom's main rival.
As somebody who has never, at first hand, seen this type of "TV News" it is difficult to believe that the police would allow these incidents to be filmed in such a way, or more pertinently, allow the footage to be broadcast at all. There is a feeling that the type of footage that Lou Bloom acquires in the film would not see the light of day without the station being shut down for breach of, well, everything(!). Apparently, cast and crew went out after hours with real stringers and most of the events depicted in the film are largely accurate, albeit obviously with some aspects massively exaggerated for the purposes of making a movie.
Nightcrawler is a remarkably slick and assured directorial debut from screenwriter Dan Gilroy, and was criminally overlooked by the Academy (only nominated for Best Original Screenplay). It's a proper brotherly collaboration with the more ubiquitous Tony Gilroy as one of the producers and John Gilroy serving as editor. The film is as much a technical achievement as it is an artistic one. The photography of night-time Los Angeles by Robert Elswit is simply sensational - making the city look paradoxically gritty and beautiful within the same shot - and rivals the work of Dante Spinotti on Michael Mann's Heat. The retro sounding electronica fused score by James Newton Howard is also fantastic, mirroring the psychosis of the main character.
It works on many different levels, but purely for Jake Gyllenhaal's astounding performance and, in Lou Bloom, one of the most most memorable and shockingly depraved creations of recent times - what's he going to do next and just how far will he go? - Nightcrawler is not to be missed.