Watching the Oscar nominations was a strange experience. Given how varied the film calendar was, there seemed to be a lot of omissions. The LEGO Movie, The Babadook and Selma were the notable mentions but one film that got its equal share of vocal fans was for Nightcrawler. Nightcrawler was nominated for best screenplay by Dan Gilroy and yet nothing for best actor for Jake Gyllenhaal or even a best film nomination. Did the Oscars miss a trick?
You know what, those vocal fans weren’t kidding – Nightcrawler is an outstanding film and if you haven’t watched it, I suggest you do.
Nightcrawler tells the story of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an incredibly driven man and desperate for work, finds himself attracted to the world of crime journalism in LA. Learning as he goes along, he blurs between the lines of ethics in order to make the story and his pay cheque.
“You see, Rick, they’ve done studies, and they found that in any system that relies on cooperation, from a school of fish or say even a professional hockey team for example, these experts have identified communication as the number one single key to success.” – Lou Bloom
I’m not sure whether anyone has made this comparison or not but watching Nightcrawler reminded me of another film – American Psycho. Obviously both films are completely different in terms of their subject and yet the lead characters (no matter how twisted their thought processes were) are strangely captivating to watch.
The synopsis doesn’t do it justice to sum up Lou Bloom. A bit like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho, Bloom is incredibly driven, motivated, persistent and strong-willed about his goals and would do anything for it to come to fruition. In other words, he’s an obsessive and ambitious perfectionist.
On the surface his values are admirable. He’s a hard worker, seeking that vital opportunity that he knows he can excel at. He doesn’t do a hip dance to a Huey Lewis track whilst violently beating up his work colleague like Patrick Bateman did in American Psycho. However Bloom’s behaviour (just like Bateman) can be an unsettling experience. His power comes through his words which often appear very contradictory. On one hand he’s knowledgeable, walking around with an encyclopaedic mind. His core beliefs are often repeated like he’s attended many group therapy sessions where its sole aim is to improve your personality and confidence and he’s become their chief spokesperson. On the flip side, he can switch where his words have a menacing and manipulative purpose, especially when things don’t go his way.
It’s hard to root for a character like Lou Bloom because he’s so unsympathetic derived from his self-centred nature. He clearly values himself, even when he’s not in the position to do so or still learning the ropes of his role. But once he does and completely immerses himself, the more cold and degrading he becomes. It’s like watching someone who is not human and has switched off his empathy trait. With his gaunt look, Gyllenhaal as Bloom rarely blinks. His eyes are always watching and learning. His ideas are based on the observation of others around him which he uses in a calculating way to achieve greater success and to dictate his own rules. The scary part is that nothing is off limits because he has no limits.
Nightcrawler is essentially a rags to riches style story but told in an unconventional and gripping way.
“Do you know what fear stands for? False Evidence Appearing Real.” – Lou Bloom
To counter balance Lou’s sociopath behaviour, the character of Rick (Riz Ahmed) provides the moral compass of the film. His character constantly questions Lou’s judgement. When he makes a mistake on the job he receives Lou’s full weight of verbal punishment. He tries to compete with Lou but quickly discovers that Lou changed the game to suit his own needs. This relationship illustrates Bloom’s desperation to be number one. He’s happy to belittle his co-worker despite both of them relatively starting in the same place. They both had nothing – no job, no income and looking for an opportunity. What Lou achieved was a pyramid effect – by increasing his reputation at the network he earned the money to buy himself a better video camera and a sports car to get to crime scenes quickly. Rick earned very little and received zero recognition.
Clearly Lou wasn’t a people person and didn’t value team work, especially if he didn’t see the outcome completely benefiting him and his sole interest. A great example of that is when he turned down a rival, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) who offers Lou a deal of a professional collaborative work for better money.
“Get out of your head, Rick, it’s a bad neighborhood.” – Lou Bloom
But the obvious achievement that Nightcrawler takes on board is the nature of news reporting, how it’s shaped and its moral ethics.
What Lou Bloom does is exploit the credibility of news gathering. He starts off as a voyeur, capturing news for what it is with close shots and tight angles. But then the ethics come into question. Because Lou doesn’t have any limits, he begins to influence the news by crossing the line and manipulating the scenario in order to gain bigger credit, a bigger spotlight and a bigger salary.
Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a news producer feeds his addiction by creating the perfect environment, allowing Lou’s behaviour to manifest. I like to think that Nina knew what kind of man Lou was but refused to entertain the idea in order to save her flagging career. A bit like Rick, she bought into Lou’s ambition and vision, taking a chance on a relative unknown. She recognises that he has talent but just like Rick, she becomes another victim of Lou’s mind games.
Because of this, the awkward business relationship between Lou and Nina and the way the news is shaped for the audience (whether it was actually related or not) suddenly becomes scary and authentically real through mannerisms, familiar phrases and grammar to illustrate the point. The language is repeatedly reinforced, ramping up the fear and shock value, fuelling the uncomfortable nature of the entire film.
Because of these elements and its premise, Nightcrawler is a modern and social contemporary look at news journalism. It skilfully juggles a character with no redeeming features through his obsession with his work and thrusts him into a world where the lines between right and wrong are always questioned and debated.
Honestly this has become my favourite performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. I have to agree with the internet – his performance and the film itself was worthy of an nomination.