We need to sit down and have a serious chat about Mr. Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. Whatever director Dan Gilroy did to him, he needs to do it again—whatever stroke of genius made him cast a typically macho, gorgeous and rippled man as a chronic, psychotic and monstrous sadist hell-bent on success, money and power at any cost needs to be done again and again. This film is perhaps the most remarkable character study I have ever seen. For those out of the loop, Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a thief looking to develop a set of legitimate skills in the hopes of wrangling some type of lucrative career. After witnessing a rather gruesome accident Bloom then watches as a man (played by Bill Paxton) shows up to the scene, films it, and makes quite the pretty penny by then selling that footage, of someone else’s awful tragedy, to the major news networks. Lacking empathy or any willingness to acknowledge the sheer immorality of what he has just witnessed, Bloom sees an opportunity to cash in—and cash in big. His newfound knowledge merges with his dubious morals and thirst for recognition, setting him on a path of absolute manipulation.
Nightcrawleris a remarkable study of the terrors of capitalism on a fragmented self, and the lines between Bloom and the frame of his camera blur as he aims for more intense and graphic circumstances. Bloom appears to be without conscience, coldly standing over dying or dead bodies, often before the police arrive on scene and rather than help them, he voyeuristically and almost erotically watches them through his video camera—unmoved by their cries for help. It is a remarkable ode to Rear Window, whether the director knows it or not, and shows how we are becoming desensitized to human suffering and more focused on the pursuit of power. And it’s brilliantly and subtly done because Bloom is so far away from any human or social normality that you don’t immediately identify with him – you just walk away from the theatre feeling a little unsettled.
Much of this success lies in how Gilroy doesn’t place too much sentimentality on the awful things Lou Bloom does; we don’t get to pause and be touched by his sadism. He cuts away just before a murder takes place, or alludes to recent or on going sexual crimes, but we never see them. In doing so Gilroy desensitizes us to that violence, and it slowly becomes a nothing of the film—not even a point of interest. He doesn’t cop out on gory scenes to scare you, or scar you, but rather lets subtle one-liners do that for him—and it is so effective. When Bloom is sitting in a Mexican restaurant with his beautiful News Director (Rene Russo), having forced her out on a date, he begins to sexually blackmail her for his footage. While it is understood that a number of abusive encounters take place after this moment, we are never shown them. Gilroy is suggesting that terrors like this happen behind closed doors, and in the real world we often don’t see the act, only the consequence. Bloom’s character is such a consequence. This woman slowly becomes aroused by his proximity to the gore of moonlit accidents and murders, and ultimately finds his abuse of her attractive because he is just that powerful in his taped pursuits.
What is so brilliant in Nightcrawler is that Gilroy has constructed a completely evil and terrifying character based on absolutely no explanation nor motivation; he is never shown as abused, hurt, mocked, damaged, or scarred—he simply is. Much like the original Halloween, the film is saying that this kind of evil just exists in the world, and now it carries a spine-tingling smile permanently plastered on it’s face. The best thing about this character is that Bloom never breaks—he never has an easy “Oscar moment” where he cries, or says his Daddy used to hurt him and that he only wants to be loved—not once. He is never humanized nor justified. He bears the focus of a high-functioning coke addict and appears to have complete control over his temperament. But just below the surface, something seems waiting to explode—it never does. This morally corrupt and repulsive human, hidden behind Gyllenhaal’s bright blue eyes, is everyone’s worst nightmare. It also doesn’t hurt that despite his dramatic weight loss, Gyllenhaal is still ridiculously handsome.
I thought this film might perhaps be an easy Oscar cop-out for Gyllenhaal, but my God he deserves one after this performance. There is no romantic way to spin this: see this f****** film.