Director and writer Dan Gilroy’s blockbuster Nightcrawler, featuring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Bill Paxton is so disarming, intact and convincing that I predict it will prompt psychiatrists to sit down to write movie reviews.
The laymen out there – including myself – will start tossing out the term sociopath with studied acumen. Who is this guy who turns ambulance chasing into an art form with no emotional reaction to pain, blood and death?
Gyllenhaal’s character, Louis Bloom, views tragedy as happenstance with a potential for profit. A car slammed into a telephone pole represents monetary success and personal validation – nothing more.
The movie opens with an unsavory-type character, Bloom, broke and jobless. He chances upon an ambulance-chasing film crew video taping a woman being pulled from a car wreck. He is instantly attracted to the possibility of a career filming late night news – car wrecks, murder scenes and the like. Quickly, he is off to buy a cheap camera at a pawn shop, and with that, he starts filming these gory events and selling the footage to a local Los Angeles news station as an independent news gatherer – a stringer.
With the snake-cold blood in his veins, he finds a perfect match in the profession, which favors bloody over clean and white bodies killed by minorities over the other way around.
However, the audience is also confronted with a very bizarre character flaw in the opening scenes, when Bloom sells some stolen metal to a scrap yard and then asks the owner of the yard for a job. In doing so, he launches into a robotic, jargon-filled speech about his qualities as a worker. But the speech is so void of personality that the audience realized there is something wrong with this guy. He isn’t quite all there and his thin-lipped smile is very creepy.
His emotional detachment makes for a compelling character sketch, but it goes deeply awry as the audience slowly realizes detachment is Bloom’s most constant characteristic, except it’s also mixed with a basic need for monetary success and an unchecked, sweltering narcissism. The only guesswork now is how dangerous this guy might get.
Also on trial here is the news industry and its lust for ratings. Bloom’s counterpart here is morning news director Nina (played by Rene Russo), who is, after all, a buyer in the commerce of violent deaths. This is predator (Bloom) meets parasite (Nina) – odd bedfellows, indeed.
Nightcrawler brings to mind American Hustle for the simple reason that very few movies can surprise you at every turn. But if it was nearly impossible to predict the next plot turn in American Hustle, it is virtually impossible here. This is a flat-out unique story with a plot as detached from convention as the main character is from humanity.
The more obvious comparison is with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, simply because Norman Bates and Louis Bloom have similar affects and are presented with such conviction that it will have audiences – including psychiatrists – shaking their heads for years to come.
Psycho, to say so, was a horror film and this is not. This is a drama about horrors. Call it a macabre thriller, if you are pressed for a category.
Is this the best film of the year? Fury, as I wrote a few weeks ago, has all the ear markings of a classic. Nightcrawler has all the ear markings of a masterpiece. This is as good and surprising and horrific and compelling as the only film I can think of that really matches it stride for stride, which is Silence of the Lambs, a Best Picture award winner at the Oscars in 1991.