Few films have shaken the stigma of American Dream like Nightcrawler. In Jake Gyllenhaal’s lean and hungry character Louis Bloom, we see an ambitious go-getter who has been coldly and consistently rejected by the dog-eat-dog world of the job hunt (no matter how many times he describes himself as a “hard worker” who sets “high goals” and is “persistent”). This remains the case until he forges his own way of survival as a freelance video journalist who strives to get the best shot he can get. He’ll even go as far as tampering with evidence and moving dead bodies from one place to another to get that shot. As gruesome and horrible as the story may sound so far, though, the storytelling in Nightcrawler is actually well crafted, its biggest effect being Bloom’s alienating presence (for example, that creepy gleam in his never-blinking eyes) that assures the audience that it is okay to keep its distance from such a character.
Writer-director Dan Gilroy does well in keeping the focus of this world centered on the enigmatically energetic Bloom. Sometimes, the scope of Nightcrawler will seem debilitatingly limited, but it all proves to be concise in the end. Gyllenhaal gets the lion’s share of screen time, and the other characters revolve around him like a cushion for the audience. Some characters exist to show how deceptively enticing and unrighteously invigorating Bloom’s skewed ethos is while others keep a safe and moral distance from it all, and those who don’t succumb to Bloom’s right hand are right in staying out of his way.
Within the pool of these other characters, we see a full spectrum of responses to Bloom’s nature. Riz Ahmed plays the eager and timid Rick, the homeless and jobless yuppie to whom Bloom extends a superficially-helping-yet-ultimately-foreboding hand via internship and stipends. Rene Russo plays cut-throat news director Nina Romina who, initially, reluctantly accepts Bloom’s footage but later embraces it with open arms after it proves its worth to the station’s ratings. Bill Paxton rounds out the influential players as fellow freelancer Joe Loder, who is the already established nightcrawler from whom Bloom learns the tricks of trade and eventually surpasses (for lack of a better term). Kevin Rahm as news producer Ted and (Ms.) Michael Hyatt as Detective Frontieri fill the rest of the spectrum as they are both appalled at Bloom’s methods in retrieving his footage. These characters all revolve around Bloom – some wrapped around his finger and others caught in his proverbial noose.
According to RogerEbert.com’s Matt Zoller Seitz’s excellent review for the film (with which I mostly agree):
…it would be a mistake to suggest that “Nightcrawler” is told from Lou’s point-of-view, much less that it endorses his behavior. It’s too attuned to the anxiety and misery of the people he manipulates to validate such a reading.
I agree that the spinners of this cinematic yarn do not “endorse” Bloom and his ways, but I do not think it is a mistake to say this film is told from Lou’s vantage point. Yes, the film does give special attention to the “anxiety and misery” that Bloom causes in the others around him, but that this cerebral malady wouldn’t exist without Bloom’s influence – even more so that he relishes in it all – is enough to prove that we are inside Bloom’s head throughout this story. I would also point to James Newton Howard’s effective musical score to prove this point as we hear a fast-paced driving electric guitar during scenes in which Bloom is on the hunt and even chasing potential news footage. As Bloom lands on his prey, then, Howard makes the music swell into a triumphant overflow of soft synthesizers. All of these sounds perfectly reflect the thoughts in Bloom’s head.
Just to elaborate on an earlier point, Bloom is extremely alienating. I personally chuck it up to a combination of Gyllenhaal’s fine acting chops, Gilroy’s writing and direction, and certain lighting decisions that always place a gleam in Bloom’s eyes. This alienation does well for a story like this, but if Nightcrawler were a Christian story, that would not be the case. Estrangement is not (or should not be) the focus of any Christian story because the church is based on welcoming, befriending, and loving the estranged, the fringed, and the marginalized from society, and a character as polarizing as Bloom cannot remained unchecked in a story meant to stir others to good works. I only say this to stamp out any thoughts that Louis is a hero for his actions. Nor is Louis Bloom is an antihero. An antihero is the protagonist of a story who employs less-than-honorable means to achieve an honorable goal, and when you see Nightcrawler, you’ll hopefully agree that Bloom’s goal is less than honorable as well as his means to reach it.
If you want to see an antihero in theaters now, I highly suggest watching Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as Ig in Horns (which I recently reviewed here). If you do, however, want the perfect blend of dark comedy and thought-provoking satire in a world that “no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations” (more of Gilroy’s eerily convicting corporate buzzwords), you’ll definitely want to catch the appropriately poignant Nightcrawler. Just remember that you have to make the money to buy a ticket.
Just a heads up: Nightcrawler is rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.