If you were affronted that Brian Williams inserted himself in a news story to make it more interesting, wait until you get a load of Jake Gyllenhaal’s amoral video stringer in “Nightcrawler.” In the hands of a less-skilled actor, Gyllenhaal’s character, Louis Bloom, might be wagging a finger about the travesty of gory news as spectacle entertainment. “Nightcrawler” is about that, but what makes it so intense and interesting is the character at the “heart” of the matter.
When we first see Lou Bloom, he’s clipping away some wire fence to sell at a scrap metal place. He addresses a security guard with a wide-eyed, Eddie Haskell politeness, then quickly jumps him for his watch. Soon, he’s trying to get an internship at the scrap metal place, which, by the way, is not a thing.
Spouting canned business platitudes about skill sets, aptitude and goals, Bloom applies corporate drivel to street wise money making, and finds his calling when he witnesses a car crash and the phenomenon of “nightcrawling,” in which freelance camera men race to crime and accident scenes to snag bloody footage for the television news. It’s not illegal, just distasteful to stick a camera in the face of a bleeding gunshot victim, and distasteful is not a problem for Bloom. His sociopathic lack of humanity gives him the perfect degree of detachment necessary, and then some.
When he meets a veteran news director, Rene Russo, he finds the perfect outlet for his footage and her encouragement drives him further into his new career, at which he quickly improves. He hires a desperate homeless guy as an employee, conducting the job interview as if he were the president of Microsoft.
He easily slips beyond the boundaries of appropriateness when, arriving before the police, he drags a dead body to a better cinematic angle at a car crash scene. His face as he crafts a great shot is pure joy and satisfaction showing he has no compunction whatsoever. When he makes good time to a triple homicide scene, he just goes further.
Jake Gyllenhaal was robbed of a Best Actor Oscar nomination for this role; the script was justly nominated for Best Writing. As written and portrayed, Lou Bloom is a loner groomed by constant Internet reading to create a truly eccentric way of talking.
Gyllenhaal gives him more than just crazy eyes, and makes his Boy Scout demeanor extremely disturbing. His obvious confidence in an act that is, in fact, utterly unconvincing creates an excellent tension, and his scenes with Renee Russo explore the nature of honor among thieves. As effective as it is as a character study, the action becomes flat out thrilling and suspenseful, and this is a fascinating, dark misadventure into a life driven by pure, pathetic ambition.