Louis “Lou” Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an unemployed man who makes money off stealing metal from fences and manhole covers and reselling it. Despite his concerted efforts, his criminal tendencies prevent him from attaining an ordinary job. One night, while driving home, he comes across an automobile accident and witnesses a film crew arrive to catch the resulting carnage on camera. He talks to the lead cameraman and discovers that they sell the footage to news stations to use for their morning news segments. Lou then decides to become a “nightcrawler”, scanning police radios to find crimes and film the aftermath.
Nightcrawler is, at its essence, a character portrait of Lou. Gyllenhaal’s character is a complete and utter sociopath with absolutely no sense of empathy. His performance is stunning, specifically stunningly creepy. He perfectly portrays a man who outwardly seems harmless, if a bit off. His defining characteristic is ambition, and he’s very eager to make money and acquire luxury goods. However, it soon becomes apparent that he lacks any sense of morals or empathy for other people; he views people solely through the lens of how he can use them and sees crime only as a potential videography paycheck. He flawlessly hits every note to convey exactly how much of a textbook sociopath he is, and the effect is extremely disturbing.
Although the premise of the film sounds like the lead up to an inspiring story about hard work and the American Dream, in reality the film is almost a dark parody or satire of that. Every line out of Lou’s mouth sounds like it came straight from a second-rate online job training program (“My motto to win the lottery is that you have to make the money to buy a ticket“), resulting in dialogue that is both eerie and darkly humorous. The film frequently criticizes the news networks Lou sells to, implying that they themselves are not so different from him; they view news only through the context of their ratings. Lou seems like the archetypical ideal of the hardworking and ambitious American, but taken to the complete and psychotic extreme; as such the film verges on dark comedy at times. There was a whole lot of awkward laughter in the screening I was in, mostly because we didn’t know what to do other than laugh and feel disgusted at the main character.
Gyllenhaal seems to have a knack for playing psychologically disturbed characters and appearing in movies dealing with such subjects. Between this, last year’s Enemy and Prisoners films, and of course the cult classic Donnie Darko, I’m beginning to associate Gyllenhaal with disturbing works. Don’t get me wrong, he is extremely good at playing those character types. It’s just that I hesitate to recommend this film to anyone because I can’t honestly say that you will likely enjoy it in the conventional sense. That being said, it is an expert character study and fabulously shows off Gyllenhaal’s acting abilities. Just be aware that you will probably feel like washing away the creepiness after seeing this film.