I can’t help but imagine Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler, forced to go on a roadtrip with Ryan Gosling’s character from Drive. Would the driver ever speak a word as Lou Bloom prattled on about the state of the job market? How long would it take before one of them killed the other?
They’re two characters impaired by neurological issues that keep them from connecting with the general populace, yet they channel that strangeness in entirely different ways. The driver is an idealistic fantasy — a stranger who takes matters into his own hands to save people. Lou Bloom is the sad truth, the thing you’re more likely to get: a slimy, manipulative, exploitative sociopath who sees would-be connections as opportunities to get ahead.
From the jump we are shown that Bloom is up to no good. He steals fencing and sewer caps, tossing them into the back of his junker to be sold off at a scrapyard. You can see it in his sunken eyes and his nervous energy that he’s always poking and prodding for a way to succeed, but the world has never given him a shot.
He’s the face of lower class desperation in the internet age — full of knowledge, eager to learn, devoid of opportunity — he preaches the ways of the unforgiving economy as if it were gospel. An employee is only as good as what they can offer, an unpaid internship is a chance for growth, bonuses come at the end of the year.
You wish he had the world all wrong, but his character is a product of a machine that spits out the weak and rewards exploitation. He’s a sad, dark window into reality. It only makes sense that he finally finds his calling as a TV cameraman, chasing down accidents and crimes in progress to film them for a quick paycheck from the morning news stations.
It’s a seedy underbelly if ever there was one. The nightcrawling world combines some of the worst aspects of humanity — the rush to be first, to feed voyeurism, to fuel fear and TV ratings. You wonder how dark it will go, as Bloom is rewarded for pushing his way to a close-up of a man shot and bleeding out after a hit-and-run — and that’s only his first success.
I hesitate to say anymore, because it’s where his character evolves, and where the plot goes, down, down, down, into the darkest corners of humanity, that surprises most. There are more graphic scenes of violence in most horror films, but it’s often what’s said between Bloom and the other characters that really leaves you feeling dirty.
Nightcrawler works on several levels. Gyllenhaal is phenomenal as Bloom, and his trajectory is a disgusting trainwreck to watch — the film turns the audience into the same voyeurs that sign his paychecks. The dive into the TV cameraman nightshift is fascinating as well. I couldn’t tell you how to true to life the particulars are, but it’s an intriguing world nevertheless.
In the end, though, it’s the thematic core of Nightcrawler that will leave the lasting impression. It asks the question: what is this world when we are all nothing but our dollar value, our desperation to sell the best angle, and snag the exclusive story, all at the expense of others?