Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is an instant classic scuzzball character. He echoes the memorable sociopaths played by Robert DeNiro in his prime (Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy and Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver), but he’s less sympathetic than either of those. A parasite on the prowl, Bloom soon fixates on a career ideally suited to his amoral loner/ go-getter character—as a crime journalist during L.A.’s night hours. He listens for crimes in progress on his police scanner, speeds to the scene, and then angles for the most shocking, risque footage he can possibly get away with.
New colleagues Nina (Rene Russo), the struggling news producer he goes to first, and Rick (Riz Ahmed), a desperate “intern” railroaded into the nightmare, are exploitable because they want what Bloom can give them—money, work, success. The risks he takes and the lines he crosses are mainly ethical ones at first, but he quickly realises the quickest way to make a name for himself is to get truly sensational footage. The kind that requires taking bigger risks, eventually endangering lives.
Bloom is the most detestable character I’ve seen in ages. He’s a soulless cockroach rummaging through the misfortunes of others, ravenously feeding off violent crimes, sometimes while they’re still happening. But the news station keeps on buying what he’s selling. Viewer ratings spike with each successive horror scene that hits the air.
Writer/director Dan Gilroy makes us squirm from start to finish here because Bloom is so queasily familiar. We all know people who share his traits, even if they don’t take them to such extremes. He’s society’s Frankenstein’s monster, made from all the worst parts of capitalism. He’ll achieve success by any means, and he’s proud of that.
With End of Watch and Prisoners, and now Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal is finding the sort of edgy, dangerous roles relished by great actors of the 1970s, and he’s attacking them with gusto. This might be his best performance yet. The film itself is a darkly comic treat. It’s tense and unsettling as a thriller, but the most fascinating part is seeing how far this scumbag will take his obsession, and how much we’ll allow him to get away with.
Robert Appleton is an award-winning author of science fiction, steampunk, and historical fiction. Based in Lancashire, England, he writes for various publishers. In his spare time he hikes, kayaks, and reads as many Victorian adventure novels as he can get his hands on. His mind is somewhat mercurial. His inspiration is the night sky.