Some of the most memorable cinematic characters are bad guys. You have the deeply flawed but interesting types like your garden variety Statham character, through to the downright vile in Hans Gruber. The guys who would use the flames enveloping your body to light their cigarette… then give the cigarette to a newborn baby.
Nightcrawler is indeed a character study. And Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is definitely a scummy type, falling somewhere between the two examples above, though disturbingly nearer the Hans Gruber end of the spectrum in terms of personal ethics.
The opening scene shows an already greasy and creepy Bloom as a dangerous and opportunistic man who has not yet found his niche. At this early stage Bloom is merely a garden variety petty criminal. A theft here. A blatant lie there. All in the name of money. Sure he’s a prick, but as yet his bastardry is ill defined and not focussed enough to be an issue for the general public.
One coincidental event, at which Bloom is only a bystander, is all it takes to highlight a career where Bloom can channel his energy in a productive way. A job where all of his societal failures become assets.
As an ‘on the scene’ cameraman Bloom seeks misery. A car accident still daubed with blood is OK. A crime scene with victims is better. TV news producer Nina (Rene Russo) tells Bloom ‘if it bleeds, it leads’, and Bloom and his near psychopathic drive has a knack for locating and getting to the scene early – sometimes even before the police and emergency services do.
The plot of Nightcrawler proves to be more unpredictable than I first thought, but at heart it is a character study with a reprehensible yet fascinating man at the centre.
Gyllenhaal has proven time and again in the past few years that he does not need to be the good guy. He does not need to be handsome, or likable, or even sympathetic. Lou Bloom is a prime example; forever looking for an edge, he will lie to your face as he contemplates picking your pocket. Every interaction is an opportunity to be on the right side of a deal, and if in his favour, everything is a ‘one-time, never to be repeated’ offer.
Lou Bloom spends time learning the ropes and the rules, then twice as much time learning the quickest way around them. Social niceties, signs, barriers and rules are things to be ignored or manipulated to his advantage.
Lou Bloom is what would happen if someone constructed their entire persona based upon those ‘How to’ articles that they post on LinkedIn, without taking the time to learn how to deal with actual people.
As time goes on being at the scene of almost every grim and depressing scene becomes not enough. Bloom wants more. He wants to be nearer, closer, past the yellow tapes and in front of his rival photographers. So dogged and timely is Bloom that I venture if he was a policeman far more crimes would be solved.
Lou Bloom wants more opportunities and more exclusivity. And more acclaim when he gets it.
To do this more chances need to be taken. More lackeys are required to ferry him about; Rick is Bloom’s first staff member (who he cons into being an ‘unpaid work experience’ guy) morphs into a human GPS *slash* dogsbody.
Nightcrawler maintains a cracking pace throughout even when the action is occasionally sporadic. The tone too continues to become bleaker, which is disturbing when you consider it starts in darkness. And as this path twists and turns Lou Bloom’s transformation from petty crim to emotionless sociopath also unfolds.
Strangely enough while I could reference Punch Drunk Love and the like as touchstones, the film this most reminded me of is The Social Network. Both are films revolving around intelligent but non-charismatic men with no sense of social responsibility. Both men are insanely competitive and profoundly indignant when told to wise up.
It’s just that Lou Bloom didn’t start Facebook. Which to me makes him the better human being…
Final Rating – 8 / 10. Sometimes, pressure makes arseholes. Despite that, Nightcrawler is a magnetic character study about a man society needs less of.