Jake Gyllenhaal has been on a roll lately, delivering some of his best performances in films such as End of Watch and Prisoners in recent times. Add 2014’s Nightcrawler to the list, in which he plays the creepy, sociopathic yet strangely charming Lou Bloom. He is a young man who films live footage at crime scenes and accidents (often illegally) before selling it to the highest bidder.
The highest bidder, it turns out, is Nina (Rene Russo) who helms a news station with increasingly low ratings, who will take anything ‘authentic’ to improve her ratings. As she gets greedier for content and Lou’s footage becomes seedier and seedier, the tables start to turn. Blackmail enters the recipe for disaster. Lou has no concern for the feeling or well-being of others, exploiting and manipulating them for his own amusement and financial gain. He makes it clear that he does not like people, but he knows how to use them. I liked the idea of media manipulation and doctoring what we see and don’t see, and it makes us question what we’re seeing when we turn on the television. As the show becomes more intense, Lou begins to manipulate crime scene evidence for his benefit. Like the coyote he is though, he manages to slip under the law. The FBI knows he’s guilty, they know he’s a terrible person, but they have nothing on him. Apparently, Jake exercised like a madman and lost tons of weight for his role, and this was supposed to indicate his coyote appearance. Bill Paxton also co-stars as a rival cameraman in a memorable and very Paxton-like (‘Game over, man!’) role.
I wonder sometimes why we are drawn to these psychopathic characters. Tony Soprano in The Sopranos is another case example of a psychopath at the forefront. He’s a fat piece of shit and a horrible person. What’s to like about him? Why are we drawn to him as moral members of society? Perhaps it is his power, his ability to do whatever he wants, his fearlessness that attracts us. It is his ability to somehow work his own system within the façade of the system. I think The Sopranos is one of the greatest television shows ever written, but I despised most of the characters by the end of the show that I refused to watch the final few episodes. There are psychopaths galore in Game of Thrones, but there’s something about the Machiavellian ways of Littlefinger (see also Edmund Blackadder in Blackadder), that is his ability to work the system in his favour despite the odds, that attracts us every time.
All in all, Nightcrawler is not the dud superhero movie you may have assumed it to be; it is an intelligent treat and directorial debut from Dan Gilroy (co-writer of The Fall and The Bourne Legacy). The film also questions our own moral boundaries and our appetite for ravenousness, and how crossing the Rubicon can bring its own irrevocable consequences. Alternatively, perhaps all this is just a part of a game, and as the end of the film suggests, the game goes on.