By Octavio Karbank
When I went to see director Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler, I was aghast when I realized this would not be a movie about the blue-skinned X-Man. Just kidding. Even so, you wouldn't believe how some folks I've mentioned the movie to honestly thought a movie about Nightcrawler had been released, which in turn elicited excited squeals. However, just because Kurt Wagner does not appear in the film is no a reason to dismiss Gilroy's latest treasure.
Nightcrawler examines the American dream through a horribly distorted lens. A sinister satire, Gilroy explores the lengths some people go to in order to achieve greatness. Sometimes working hard is not enough, forcing you to take matters into your own hands, fashioning circumstances to your liking and destroying anyone who might get in your way. At least that's the movie's flippant interpretation about jobs and the hardships people put themselves through nowadays just to land certain positions.
Yet these themes are only philosophical in nature until someone represents them on screen. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal takes the part and gives a performance unlike anything he's done before. Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a down-and-out young man with an insatiable desire to succeed. One fateful night leads him to discovering crime journalism and his life immediately changes. Willing to do anything and everything to conquer at his newfound passion and at life in general, kill if need be, Bloom takes what he wants; let those who get caught in the crossfire be damned.
Deliciously sinister, Gyllenhaal's performance sent shivers up and down my spine. I wasn't watching an actor playing a part, but rather I was watching a sociopathic madman/genius running around L.A.'s streets, taking advantage of people's suffering so as to film the best news stories possible. While usually one to play the lead in romantic comedies and the odd drama here and there, though who can forget Donnie Darko (and some of the acting here in Nightcrawler is very reminiscent of his role as Darko), Gyllenhaal changes your perspective about him as an actor. Modifying his voice, accentuating a creepy accent, keeping his movements and expressions subtle, yet predatory, all help to instill a sense of dread. We are looking into the eyes of a man who's killed and would do so again should it befit his cause, only to carry on afterwards with a wide-eyed grin at a good day's work.
Many movies featuring characters living in the metaphysical darkness, like pretty much any David Lynch movie ever, have the protagonists gradually descending into madness. The end result? They succumb to the darkness and bring absolute chaos and ruin to their world. Lou Bloom has already taken a full-on swan dive into the realm of insanity long before the movie's opening sequence. What makes Gyllenhaal, and ipso facto Bloom, so chilling, is his earnest portrayal and dedication to the role of this Grade A sociopath, a man capable of operating in day-to-day society without anyone being none the wiser. Minus the rare moments Lou's rage and general craziness bubble to the surface, Gyllenhaal and Gilroy orchestrate his insane personality traits so that everyone around him are mistaken into thinking he's simply overly ambitious.
You never know what he will say or do and that makes Lou Bloom all the more unnerving. A true creature of the night, both metaphorically and literally, Bloom dwells in the places we try to ignore. Where he sees opportunity through relentlessness, we hold on to our morals, maintaining that some things aren't worth a paycheck.
Rene Russo and Bill Paxton show up here and there, the former acting as Lou Bloom's boss while the latter his competition, and Gyllenhaal's relationship with each character is disturbing and multi-layered. Both Russo and Paxton give exemplary performances, chewing the hell out of their respective scenes, but this is Gyllenhaal's rodeo and they merely serve as backup and intriguing plot points.
Gilroy and Gyllenhaal clearly had a vision going into Nightcrawler and they executed said plan to a t. Every detail is marvelously orchestrated, every tilt of the head a necessary gesture and every line of dialogue flows with vulturine authenticity. Extremely unsettling, Nightcrawler peels back the layers behind contemporary America and the job market, all the while perverting the American Dream with more than a sprinkle of disquieting humor. Like Gyllenhaal and his startling performance as Lou Bloom, if ever there was a movie that demanded your attention, Nightcrawler is it. When you leave the theater, consider the following: how far would you go if your dream job were on the line?
Octavio Karbank is a writer and bona fide Whovian. Living in Massachusetts, you can find him on Twitter @TymeHunter and his blog www.cozmicventures.com