crawler6_0.jpgTravis Bickle—meet Lou Bloom.

In the nocturnal swamp-crawl through Los Angeles that is Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a sardonic psychopath against the gorgeous cinematic sweep of Don Gilroy‘s new film. Shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Elswit (There Will Be Blood) the film offers a riveting elegy on the loneliness of 21st century urbanity, a landscape upon which Gyllenhaal’s desperate, crafty opportunist Bloom fashions a career out of capturing news footage of grisly, graphic car crashes, suburban shootings, and blood-drenched explosions. “If it bleeds, it leads,” local TV station news director (played by Rene Russo) tells freelance photographer Bloom, who quickly convinces both her, and us that he can and will do anything to get his footage broadcast.

A sobering morality play fusing Yankee ingenuity with narcissistic ruthlessness, the film bristles with all the visual chill of a David Lynch dreamscape painted by Edward Hopper. Oozing eerie geek charm, Bloom and his ill-gotten video equipment stake out violent crime scenes and spectacular accidents, acquiring more skill and sensational footage the more he discards all shreds of decency or compassion.

Gyllenhaal’s gaunt glassy-eyed character thrives on this blood-drenched quest for grisly imagery with which to climb to the top of the news hour ratings, and gain more clout with the weary-eyed boss lady, Russo.

“I’m twice your age,” she reminds him when he offers to trade his highly rated footage for sexual favors. “I like older women,” he replies. Never blinking. His eyes are wild with flavors of inquisitive desires that have no name. Even though the story is a straightforward descent into hell, the film excels in just about every way. Especially the details.
Bloom happily irons shirts while watches his graphic footage on the TV news. He waters a single plant in his apartment window overlooking a brick wall. Realizing that he needs an assistant in order to respond to police scanner updates of accident and crime scenes, he takes on an “intern” in the form of a hungry homeless go-fer named Rick (nice, taut work by Riz Ahmed). Together they scurry through the nighttime streets, Bloom lecturing Rick on business plans and work ethics that he’s learned from a life spent on the Internet. The entire film can easily be read as a black satire on self-help manuals and success mantras, the clichés paving the streets of the 21st century online community.
In Lou Bloom, Gyllenhaal has created an original creature, a monster of hype, media PR, and upwardly mobile amorality—a compelling monster.  Nightcrawler straps us in and doesn’t let go. Crisp timing, extreme cinematography, eye-popping car chases and crashes, all support Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation from smalltime thief to a consummate media craftsman willing to rearrange—even stage—violent situations as fuel for his lens.

Nightcrawler is a smart film that grabs you and doesn’t let you go until you’ve watched a fine actor turn himself into something more. An inventive one.