In an age of the Internet, a commentary on the shameless depiction of violence in televised news is like comparing a Neo-Nazi to a Mormon sister-wife. Those who complain about this contrived issue need only look up “Execution video”, on any search engine, and find their minds changed beyond repair. It’s true the media sensationalizes current events, but your regulated news channel has nothing on the Cartel bandito decapitating a pair of snitches with a chainsaw. Nightcrawler is built around this idea, coming off as rather pretentious and heavy-handed, but its focus and reason for buying a ticket is the man behind the camera.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a wide-eyed sociopath with a liberal helping of OCD. In pursuit of a career, Louis becomes a nightcrawler, an amateur cameraman that drives around Los Angeles listening to a police scanner to film accidents for profit. After many successes, Louis’s cool exterior begins to deteriorate as he moves up the ladder, hell-bent on sating his hunger for carnage and wealth at all costs.
Nightcrawler is similar to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, a story about a cabby spiraling into insanity. But where De Niro’s Travis as morals, Gyllenhaal’s Louis is soulless and irredeemable. He is a man of opportunity, thinking only of himself as he manipulates and deceives to get what he wants. He has no regard for human life, only interacting with those who fit into his plan for success.
It is undeniable that Gyllenhaal is the reason to see this movie. His subtlety and methodical speech sells the character in a performance unlike any other seen this year. With every movement, stare, and spoken word, Louis becomes a more realized, and chilling to watch in action. An Oscar nomination goes without saying.
As a character piece, it’s difficult to point out flaws when the film’s essential part is undoubtedly perfect. We see much of Louis’s life as we grow to understand his emotionless personality and various obsessive ticks. This is the first half of the film and the set up for a story doesn’t happen until long after the fact. Normally this would be a problem in a conventional narrative, but since the entirety of the focus is on the character, a traditional story is unnecessary. Of course you could build a consistent beginning, middle, and end around the character, having his development coincide with what happens, but it would have cut-short the performance and leave much to be desired.
The film is a slow burn of just under two hours and you will certainly feel its length. What Louis does can be hard to watch, but movies are spectacle as much as art, and Nightcrawler is a spectacle of character.