NIGHTCRAWLER follows Lou Bloom as he struggles to find work, thieving in order to get by until one evening he falls into the world of video journalism. Once picking up an old police scanner and video camera, Lou documents and sells recorded crimes and incidents, setting out to build an empire.
This is a film so thick with tension, I became dizzy from holding my breath so much. NIGHTCRAWLER lays down its foundations to lift Jake Gyllenhaal and his portrayal of the sociopathic Lou to stunning levels. Lou’s obsessive-compulsive disorder penetrates every area of his life, from the humble yet bare surroundings of his home to an obsession with learning and acquiring an intimate knowledge about everything – be it technology, business or life. This mania leads him from a second hand Sony Handycam and run down car to a broadcast-ready and -fitted Sony DVCam and 2014 Mustang. But it is also this very same obsession that pushes him to tamper with accidents and crime scenes that better suit the picture he’s shooting and the environment he tries to create. He becomes the storyteller in the sense of puppeting the images he thinks will make the story sell for more. At the beginning of the film, you certainly felt sorry for him – everyone always feels for the underdog. But through the course of the movie, there is a definite feeling of dislike for the positions he places people in as Lou subtly and increasingly starts influencing everything and everyone around him.
Throughout the entire movie, Gyllenhaal appears to be repressing a great deal of anger – something quite noticeable in his body language. And his performance and tone of the film builds on this repression. You’re continually wondering when he is going to explode. This thread of suppressed pressure continues to be sewn throughout the film. The performance simmers over the course of two hours, and we never really see what Lou is like when he’s unchained. Or do we? Lou doesn’t necessarily have to explode at people, but he can truly whittle a person down. Lou emerges as a master manipulator and influencer of his environment – and he delivers all this with composed rationale and logic.
The supporting characters on show do a fine job of locking themselves into Gyllenhaal’s world but it’s not their show – it’s his. Riz Ahmed as Rick, plays Lou’s employee and delivers a strong performance and foil of humanity that Lou doesn’t seem to take on board. Similar to the 2004 COLLATERAL, Rick finds himself almost a hostage in a way Max was to Vincent; he’s innocent enough and wanting to get by, but falls into the carefully executed trap of Lou’s business. Having Rick present allows the audience to take a break from sitting with Lou’s personality over-saturating the film. It’s a break that’s sorely needed otherwise his performance takes you to a next level of uncomfortable.
Narratively speaking, NIGHTCRAWLER is rather light, and the film finds itself zeroing in on Lou’s personality and skill development as a cameraman rather than a big throughline narrative. The spotlight of the film remains purely on how composed and focused he is, in spite of the situations he stumbles onto or creates – and there are some incredibly intemperate scenes. The editing and pacing throughout is on point and glides over a seamless two hours, and while I think there’s room for a bit of trimming around the edges, doing so would probably jeopardise the true development of Lou’s personality. Director Dan Gilroy smartly keeps the camera work steady enough and holds shots for just the right amount of time to really hammer home and emphasise performances. He does so while using some gorgeous shots of Los Angeles to establish the city as the home court that Lou plays in.
This all comes together to make NIGHTCRAWLER a tremendous movie that highlights a developing personality and its surroundings, with a level of creepiness and precision not captured in film for quite some time.