The Film: Nightcrawler
What’s It About: Louis Bloom haunts the streets of Los Angeles at night, using a police radio scanner to locate unfolding crime scenes, and then selling the footage he records to a local news station. As the demand increases for the violent and exploitative images he captures, the lines that Louis will cross to achieve his ends become increasingly blurred.
Number of Oscar Nominations: 1
Will It Win? No. Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut has a lot going for it, not least an incredible central performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. The film has received only one nomination – Best Original Screenplay (the film is also written by Gilroy). There hasn’t been this savage a critique of television news since Network, but that won’t be enough to sway the Academy, which is more than likely going to choose Richard Linklater’s script for Boyhood in this category.
I hear Jake Gyllenhaal is amazing in this.
How come he isn’t up for an Oscar?
The Academy must have decided that it only has room for one creepy performance in the Best Actor race, and so Gyllenhaal lost out on a nomination to Steve Carell’s malevolent, pathetic John ‘Eagle’ du Pont in Foxcatcher. Regardless, Gyllenhaal can take comfort in knowing that between his work here and in last year’s disturbing psychological thriller Enemy, that he will be at the top of every casting agent’s file marked “Loners – Disturbed”.
As Louis Bloom, a sort of Weegee with a video camera, Gyllenhaal is pitch perfect. The part could have descended into caricature very quickly, but the performance is surprisingly nuanced. With longish, slicked-back hair and a gaunt face that focuses attention even more than usual on those puppy dog eyes of his, he inhabits the role with a guileless, childlike sense of awe. The character is very obviously a sociopath, which the opening makes clear, and you know exactly where the film is going to end up, but it works so well.
I wonder if that’s because it’s set in Los Angeles, a city famously sprawling and disconnected. If there was ever a place that seemed to lack a sense of community, it’s L.A.: of course it has a high crime rate. And Los Angelenos wake up every day to a steady supply of carnage filmed overnight. “Morning News: if it bleeds, it leads,” says cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). One of the striking things for me about the film’s title sequence is how parts of L.A. at night can be so deserted; fitting as Lewis Bloom is a loner. A persistent loner, but a loner nonetheless.
He speaks in Business Schoolese and parrots Self-Help phrases. He repeats his personal motto “If you want to win the Lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket” to anyone and everyone he comes across. He refuses to take “no” for an answer. He’s a go-getter; in a different film, he might almost be admirable. He’s the personification of the American Dream, the hard-working, never-quitting self-starter. In other words he’s a Horatio Alger character … but he might just be, as Cathy of 746 Books brilliantly pointed out to me, De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin if he’d read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
I also wonder if his name is deliberately reminiscent of Joyce’s Leopold Bloom. The hero of Ulysses is also a freelance of sorts, an ad canvasser who has to hustle and haggle with newspaper editors, and who lives for much of the time in his head. Spoiler – highlight to read: Of course, Joyce’s creation never kills anyone or blackmails his boss for sexual favours.
Rene Russo, meanwhile, is also on top form as Nina Romina, the news editor of a low-rent network. I haven’t seen Russo in years and it’s nice to know she can still command the screen. She gets to deliver a mighty put-down to a male colleague (perhaps the finest zinger ever delivered by a female boss to a male underling), and while that might make you think her position as a woman in the workplace is not an issue, the script puts her through the wringer in her relationship with Bloom.
There’s a scene where the two go on a “date” at a rather awful-looking, supposedly authentic Mexican restaurant, that’s so well-written and acted I wanted to jump through the screen and shake Russo’s, Gyllenhaal’s and Gilroy’s hands. Gilroy also deserves praise for coining the word “flirtationship”.
If you have seen the film, enjoy the clip. If not, wait until you watch the movie:
It’s fitting that Nightcrawler deals with the bottom-feeders who film car crashes. Watching it is like witnessing a car crash in slow motion. It’s appalling but perversely addictive, and you cannot turn away from it.
Verdict: Four Horrific Crime Scenes out of Five