Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a low level crook who sees a business opportunity for an unscrupulous individual such as himself: flogging footage of crime and emergencies to local news stations.
Louis’s initially charming persona plays to Gyllenhaal’s nice guy image, but gradually transforms into one of cinema’s great psychopaths. As he gets to know those around him he shifts from an affable and enthusiastic young man into an incredibly ruthless and forceful businessman that none of them can get in the way of, prepared to exploit any weakness to his own ends. The film works primarily due to Gyllenhaal’s magnetic performance, with elements of other popular movie psychopaths, given his own unique glint. Incredibly, in spite of his utterly ruthless personality, Gyllenhall manages to inject a streak of guilty likeability into the character, with the power of his personality and the confidence he exudes making him impressive to behold. As such it’s never hard to see how those around him are taken in by his charms.
What results is something like American Psycho meets Network. Like Network, it’s a biting satire of news media and the quest for ratings, lifting the bonnet to show the extent to which so-called journalists will compromise the standards of their profession in the pursuit of popularity. Ultimately Louis ends up influencing the news he’s supposed to report on, something that resonates strongly with the phone hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone that led her parents to think she may still be alive. The desire to see real-life arrests, fires and burglaries reflects recent news events such as the ‘live eviction’ of the Dale Farm traveller site and the broadcast of the raid of Cliff Richard’s house. Nightcrawler takes its themes to an extreme perhaps not even reached by the British media, just as good satire should do.
But it’s also like American Psycho, or even Devil’s Advocate, in that it depicts an entire profession as suited only to people with no moral compass. Louis is the deranged man at the centre, and is able to succeed simply because he cares not a single jot about anyone else in his life. Like Patrick Bateman in American Psycho Louis isn’t transformed by his work: his is a born sociopath, and simply finds a home in his chosen profession, where his skills can earn him a lot of money.
The film is set almost entirely at night, with a cold, dark feel to reflect its dark themes and often tense atmosphere. It’s underwritten with a dark edge of humour, to offset its more exaggerated elements, meaning it is always engaging. It;s helped by excellent supporting performances from Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed as a TV news producer and Louis’s hapless assistant respectively.
A well crafted, engrossing and enjoyable film, Jake Gyllenhaal delivers another great performance in this excellent thriller.