Throughout a career dominated by good performances in good films, with a few occasional poor career choices (ahem, Prince of Persia), Jake Gyllenhaal has proved himself a remarkably capable actor more than a few times over –– in Prisoners, End of Watch, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, October Sky and The Good Girl, for starters. But if he has any lingering detractors, his turn as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler will be the performance to convert them.
Nightcrawler is Gyllenhaal’s show the way The Wolf of Wall Street was Leonardo DiCaprio’s. There is scarcely a shot without him and nary a moment when his performance is not utterly captivating. Lou’s story is simple. He is young, persistent and desperate for a number of things, but mostly work. So, when he stumbles upon a crew of nightcrawlers –– freelance videographers who roam the streets of L.A. by night following scanners and sirens to capture footage of crashes and and crime –– he sees an opportunity and seizes it. Lou learns quickly that the seamy underworld he has entered is marked by cutthroat competition, but this only pulls him in deeper. Soon enough he begins to blur the lines between observer and participant in an effort to best his competition.
Gyllenhaal infuses bloom with such a manic desperation that at times he is almost uncomfortable to watch. From a stunning opening scene to a climax that’s jaw-dropping even as it is inevitable, Lou transforms from a slippery thief to an all-out megalomaniac, and it’s a journey that really is something to behold.
Rene Russo, Bill Paxton and Riz Ahmed are the unfortunate foils to Lou’s quest for nightcrawling dominance, and it is in contrast with these other more or less morally defunct characters that we are frequently reminded that Lou, whatever his insistence that he’s a reasonable guy who champions communication above all else, is a sociopath reveling in the discovery of a world where his distinctly atypical personality allows him to thrive.
When you can make a jaded and hardened broadcast news director who champions the cause of “If it bleeds it leads” cringe, it’s a pretty sure sign that you’ve crossed some kind of line in the sand. And that’s more or less what Lou works up to over the course of his amateur days on the job, then he gets really creative.
Nightcrawler is a taut, fascinating portrait of what happens when a desperate, even unhinged, person sinks into a volatile situation, and Jake Gyllenhaal is at his best at the center of it all, mesmerizing us, even as he renders Lou irrevocably despicable and sinister.