Gyllenhaal Continues to Impress in Nightcrawler

Gyllenhaal Continues to Impress in Nightcrawler

Having lost 30 pounds before filming Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal has a reptilian appearance in the film.  It suits his character well as Lou Bloom is as coldblooded as they come.  A product of the alienating factors that are part-and-parcel of big cities, he’s fallen victim to his own worse qualities, becoming a sociopath, unable to function in the company of others, insular in behavior, without feeling or empathy.  

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There’s a moral vacuum where Bloom is concerned and over the course of this gripping film we see how deep the void within him really is.  Upon first meeting him, we see him steal a wristwatch from a security guard and it soon becomes apparent that he also filches cooper and other valuable metals for resale to scrap yards. However, one night he finds his true calling when driving along the highway.  An accident has occurred and Bloom pulls over to observe two police officers pull an unconscious woman from a burning wreck. Two independent videographers take footage of the incident and when he sees what they’ve filmed on the news later that morning he knows what to do with his life.

You can’t help but think of other films while taking in Nightcrawler and yet it never seems as though Gilroy is exploiting or stealing from other works but rather expanding on established themes and tones.  Like David Fincher’s Zodiac, the City of Angels seen here is a cool, barren, icy place that, despite being home to millions, still contains isolated spots where people can let their dark side run rampant.  Bloom’s right at home here as he gets his hand on a cheap video camera and police scanner and is soon haunting these dark places, recording other people’s misery for his own gain.  The bloodier and more tragic the circumstances, the more money he gets; as a result, Bloom has no problem manipulating certain factors to make things worse than they seem.

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Taking a page from Network, Gilroy turns his attention to the receiving end of Bloom’s work, a bottom of the ratings newscast whose program director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) will air anything that will tap into her viewer’s sense of paranoia and fear. In providing Bloom with a forum, she unwittingly encourages his willingness to not simply capture news but generate it as well, a course of action that can’t help but have a tragic result.

Gyllenhaal continues to be the most daring actor working in film today, bringing an unsettling sense of self-delusion and menace to Bloom, a man who lives in a world of his own, because that which he’s been born into has rejected him. Comparisons to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver are inescapable and the actor makes certain not to mimic DeNiro’s iconic performance but cuts a distinctive path all his own, as he makes Bloom a subtle predator, a scavenger of human misfortune whose lack of morality is not as disturbing as it once was because it’s become more widespread. Gyllenhaal is scary here but you can’t take your eyes off of him, much like the horrific footage his character captures and sells.  In not being able to look away from what he panders, we encourage people like Bloom, making us the worst sort of enabler. 

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