Louis Bloom is an everyday man, looking for a job. Though he’s not too concerned with the decency of it all. He’ll take what he can get. Which makes it seem like fate when he stumbles across a couple of nightcrawlers. These guys burn the midnight oil, roaming the streets of Los Angeles to get the latest tragic news stories.
Lou sees this and he wants in. But things start to spiral when he constantly moves the boundary of ethical journalism to feed the modern nature of consumerist media and his own grandiose ambitions.
If it bleeds, it leads. That’s the motto of the guts and gore journalism world this film thrusts us into. We’re taken along as our protagonist, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhall), drifts from one odd job to the next. Unlike the typical protagonist, Lou doesn’t make you comfortable. He tries to convince you otherwise though. His creepy smile, intelligent speech and wild eyes attempt to hide his narcissistic desire to be great, and rich.
We follow his slimy tactics at cash making until he lands in the middle of a developing tragic story. All it takes is a few burning cars and a frantic freelance news team to convince Lou that if he puts his mind to it, he can join the word of nightly news hunters and be the best at it. He’s rejected by Loder (Bill Paxton), a nightcrawler with a pretty big ego, but that doesn’t stop our boy Lou. And so the madness begins.
Lou isn’t the only uncomfortable figure in this neo noir crime narrative. There’s Nina (Rene Russo), the washed up, blood lusting local news producer at KWLA station. She’s the fire under Lou’s desire to make it to the top of the night crawling pyramid. She even gives him some disturbing marching orders when she tells him to think of her news broadcast as “A screaming woman, running down the street with her throat cut”. Yikes.
As Lou’s questionable tactics move him up the ladder, he sucks in a wide eyed, desperate man named Rick (Riz Ahmed) to be his intern. Rick mirrors Lou in that he’s willing to do a lot for money, but their fundamental differences come to a head as the two spiral deeper into the stories they’re meant to cover. When the story of a lifetime lands in Lou’s laps, he shows us just how far he’s willing to go, tangling himself into a dance with local law enforcement and the growing demand for his gory content.
Dan Gilroy, who wrote and directed Nightcrawler, had originally intended to highlight the struggles of late-night news stringers when he grew tired of the common hero arc and threw us into this neo noir masterpiece. He collaborated with lead actor Jake Gyllenhall, molding Lou Bloom to fit Gyllenhall’s wide talent.
Their hard work paid off as Nightcrawler’s raw language and gut punching realism clenched a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 87th Academy Awards. The screenplay’s pacing is relentless and it grabs you along. There’s no guiding hand here. We’re knee deep in the dirty, slimy world of our protagonist from the word “action”.
Characters and acting
We have to talk about Jake Gyllenhall, who plays the diluted Lou Bloom. This is one of his most electric performances yet. He’s great at throwing himself into his characters and this is no different. In one specific scene, when Lou’s frustrations bubble over, he screams at a mirror, shattering it with an impulsive outburst. This wasn’t scripted, it was a testament to Gyllenhal’s immersive acting technique.
Then there’s Rene Russo who plays the twisted Nina Romina. She delivers the sour, jaded persona with ease. Nina is the type of person you’d expect to see at an unstable news network within western media. Tired and troubled. The doe eyed, unsuspecting intern Rick is played by Riz Ahmed who’s stellar shock face gives the audience a voice and perspective as he follows Lou’s rising antics.
Music and cinematography
Composer James Newton Howard delivered an eerie, electronica sound to the film, propelling the setting and backdrop further into a synth rich, neo noir feel. There’s no distinct modern lyrical music but instead the film is filled with various instrumentals that give rising tension to each scene.
The opening shots are void of any human movement which sets the ominous tone, courtesy of Academy Award winning cinematographer Robert Elswit. Each varying wide angle shot of Los Angeles at night set to a simple, piano enriched tune gives the viewer something to look for, and we find it when Lou Bloom shows up on screen. Despite the 8.5 million-dollar budget and quick shooting time, Elswit was able to capture the gritty, murky underworld of the film’s setting.
If you’re a fan of the reinvented genre of thriller crime noir, then Nightcrawler is for you. Each twist and turn feels like a terrifying video game you want to get out of, but you kind of want to see what happens so you stay. The ending further drive’s this film’s point home. A must see for anyone who’s a fan of sweeping visuals and intense storytelling. Highly recommended.