There are people who don't seem to like Jake Gyllenhaal, so it seems that his latest film has him perfectly cast as a slimy thief, whose unstoppable ambitions land him at the top of the news broadcasting world in the new film, [Nightcrawler](movie:938302). Jake Gyllenhaal may not be America's favorite actor, but he sure does deserve some recognition for his role in this thrilling film. It was a wise choice for director / screenwriter Dan Gilroy to portray Lou Bloom as a thief first and foremost, as a thief is one of the oldest 'professions', the epitome of someone who is willing to do anything to get ahead. Gilroy's choice concisely reveals the core of who Bloom is and how he operates. Despite becoming wildly successful later on in his new line of work, Lou Bloom initially runs into difficulty landing an honest job--- why? Because you can't trust a thief. Some could say this is Gilroy's dig at Hollywood, which makes the Los Angeles setting all the more appropriate.
This film could not have taken place anywhere but Los Angeles, and Gilroy acknowledges this as he makes a point of incorporating the city as a supporting character with both beautiful and grungy landscape shots. The City of Angels is known for both the making and breaking of dreams, so a story about people putting aside their ethics to indulge in the supply and demand of the American fantasy seems apropos. Gilory's aesthetic is heavily reminiscent of fellow (adopted) Angeleno, Michael Mann, who also highlights the spirit of this city in his works. For a town that's brimming with swarms of paparazzi, willing to stick their cameras anywhere for the best shot, Nightcrawler's setting only seems natural. In fact, a disturbing realization came over me as I was watching the movie, which was that as a fellow LA resident, the world of Lou Bloom seems all too familiar.
As Lou Bloom, Gyllenhaal preys on the circumstance of his supporting cast, Nina (Rene Russo) and Rick (Riz Ahmed), forcing them to play his game within the confines of their limited situations. Nina and Rick's situations are unfortunately common in this biz. Nina, a jaded news director, is vying to keep network ratings high, but with her older age, she struggles to maintain her career. This leads her to make questionable choices in the gruesome footage she chooses to air on the nightly news. Lou takes advantage of her desperation, and is able to attain the upper hand though her vulnerability and need for his gory videos that draw in America to their televisions night after night. As a 60 year old actress, Russo must be facing some of the same challenges as many women of that ripe age in Hollywood, despite their talent and beauty, find themselves fighting for roles, usually of the matronly nature. Previous to the THOR franchise, Russo had a 6 year hiatus from the big screen, so it seems wise of Gilroy to write his wife into a role that she can so readily identify. Lou Bloom's manipulation of Nina would not have worked had it been with a man, or even a younger woman. Bloom knows the sad reality that is this business, and he takes full advantage of it.
Rick, practically homeless, faces the same dependency on Lou as Nina does. Desperately needing a job, Rick is willing to work for practically nothing under the guise of an 'internship', a concept that most young people entering the media world are well acquainted with. Lou Bloom is aware of Rick's desperation, and hires him as an assistant, knowing that he will do anything for little money. But as their videos increasingly blur the lines of morality, even Rick questions Lou's readiness to do whatever it takes. While Bloom has earned enough money to upgrade to a fancy new car, Rick is still left living out of a garage. It's a prevailing economic divide that is as common as the struggle of women in the workplace, making both these supporting characters an apt portrayal of some of the problems society faces.
Gyllenhaal is consumed by this role of the slick, sociopath Lou Bloom. The intensity of his eyes is frightening, like a power hungry man who's been looking through a lens for so long that he's abandoned the need to blink, lest he miss a film-able moment. To say that he is an opportunist would be putting it lightly. Everything that drips from his mouth sounds like it came from a motivational booklet on 'How to Become a Successful Entrepreneur' as he spouts off words of workplace wisdom, continually sharing his mantras with those he is trying to manipulate. There are times that Bloom's focus on productivity is strangely admirable as he chooses to take opportunities to communicate instead of engaging in an argument. However, he lacks the ability to truly connect with people; they are merely cogs in his machine to fame and fortune. He is simultaneously apathetic and sincere, to the point where it's unclear if he's just bullshitting his way around, or if he is fully committed to the crazy conviction he delivers.
Working in mass media, you see and hear of all sorts of crazy stories that make the actions of Lou Bloom appear less sadistic and more like LA's 'normal' orders of operation. To someone in Small Town USA, they may watch NIGHTCRAWLER and be appalled by the grotesque decisions of its characters, not understanding how people could be so dishonorable. To someone living and working in entertainment in LA, this just seems like an exaggeration of how this town runs its business. It's also America's obsession with 'news porn' that makes this film so timely. It's easy to look at Nina and Lou with disgust for their ethical discrepancy, but they aren't the only ones profiting from the misery of others. It's an American culture of blood lust that promotes such people and professions to exist, and this movie merely depicts our twisted tendency to go viral with violence. Gilroy's brilliant realization of all this emphasizes the reality of the kind of world NIGHTCRAWLER is spawned from, and it delivers an extra punch to the gut, especially if you live in Los Angeles.
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