Film fans are bunch who absolutely adore comparison and allusion. If a film bears a resemblance to an an older, more notable film, we say its a homage. If it is unfavorably similar to another film, its a rip-off. However, most of all, we love to find our versions of classic films. Perhaps the one most sought-after in terms of finding this generation’s incarnation is Taxi Driver. The dark, thrilling anti-establishmentarian noir that launched Martin Scorsese’s career has become the bedrock of a great film. However, since 1976, when the film was released, almost every film that is about a loner in a terrible world, doing horrendous things, has to be compared to Taxi Driver. Perhaps they do bear some slight similarities, but they are all quite different from the assumed inspiration. However, one film made very recently actually truly does encapsulate the insanity of Taxi Driver, and created a dark and brilliant noir about a despicable character. That film is Nightcrawler.
When we think of iconic performances in film history, our minds wander to various great roles – Marlon Brando in The Godfather, Orson Welles in Citizen Kane, Anthony Perkins in Psycho. I truly believe that Jake Gyllenhaal’s fearless performance as Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler will join those ranks. It is not strange for an actor to transform his or her body for a role and make an intense physical change to more accurately portray the character. However, Gyllenhaal takes it to the next level. Losing a lot of weight to play Bloom, he does it for a reason that isn’t quite clear at first, but once you have watched the film, you will accurately understand exactly why he did it. I won’t explain that here, but I will below. Gyllenhaal is absolutely stellar as Louis, and the true grasp and insanity of that performance is not realized until you have watched the entire film and had time to reflect on it (trust me, you will sit and think about this film…its too complex to not stir some reflection, even if it is involuntary thought), and then you realize how Gyllenhaal was so damn effective at playing a psychopath. His skeletal body, combined with his go-go-go attitude (and his eyes, which are so creepy and unsettling on their own in this film, they deserve some type of award for it) create an unconventionally villainous and strangely charismatic character. If nothing else in his career does (and the man has a great career ahead of him, no doubt), then Nightcrawler will be an absolutely apt and, quite frankly, brilliant career highlight for Gyllenhaal.
In the supporting cast (other than those eyes) we have a pair of great performances. Riz Ahmed is a great young talent, and this was a great breakthrough into the mainstream for him. Playing Rick, a conflicted young man who assists Louis on his escapades, filming tragic crimes and accidents that happen around Los Angeles and selling the footage to news channels for exclusive prices. Ahmed is great and his naivety and agreement to do anything to keep the job makes him a sympathetic character who represents the audience, going on this wild, terrifying and dangerous ride with Louis. Queen of the 1990s, Rene Russo, makes her best screen appearance in a decade as Nina, the tough but desperate producer for the news show Louis sells his footage to. Russo may not do too much, but she is great in her role, and the pretty much ethical and straigtforward producer reveals herself to be more than that, and more despicable below the surface. Both Ahmed and Russo are brilliant, but they don’t even come close to holding a candle to Gyllenhaal.
Nightcrawler has a very disturbing message in it. We all know the irritating characters that the paparrazi are, harrassing celebrities and entering their personal lives so that videos and picture of celebrities doing bad or controversial things end up on the news (because we are sadly a society of people who are obssessed with fame and the famous) – what we also see on the news is footage from actual tragic events such as crime scenes and car accidents. The people who record that footage are very often similar to paparazzi, but of course far more brutal, disgusting and plain despicable. The fact that people like Louis Bloom actually exist is absolutely terrifying. Unethical, desperate, apathetic and evil to the core, these “nightcrawlers” are people who will go to any lengths to allow the public to see disturbing footage, not because they feel the public needs to see it, but because news corporations know how the public responds with shock, horror and inbreakable interest to violent stories, and thus the nightcrawlers are paid handsomely for delivering footage that almost always shows people suffering and fighting for their lives.
I alluded to the reason why Gyllenhaal went through such a transformation for the role. Quite simply, I believe it was so that he could resemble a scavenger – a coyote, wolf or jackal, prowling around the dark streets, looking for prey, not being able to kill, but being very able to feed off the suffering of those involved in tragic events. Louis Bloom is a scavenger, feeding off the moments in life when he could be helping someone, but instead he exploits them for personal gain. Gyllenhaal is truly despicable as Bloom, and gives the performance of his life. The worst part is that Bloom isn’t doing what he is doing because he has an inherent interest in filming these stories for the public to see, but instead because of him being a business-obsessed genius, he sees and opportunity for money, in a market that will probably never be void of opportunity (as long as there are people, there will be crime and accidents, worldwide). The film is extraordinarily terrifying because of one simple reason – every single one of Louis’ actions are absolutely backed up by business and economic justification. Every reason he gives for his actions are pretty much solid under the model of running a successful business. That is why it is so terrifying – because he warps a system that should be used for good, and makes it something truly evil.
Nightcrawler is a brilliant movie that shows a side of society that are relentlessly despicable, truly evil and the scum of the Earth. The worst part is they are very real, and what they are doing is perfectly legal and acceptable, of course following some loose guidelines. I thought this film was dark, tense, thrilling and I absolutely loved it. It is so disturbingly good, and Gyllenhaal is mind-blowingly brilliant, it hurts. I think Nightcrawler is absolutely amazing, and it will definitely end up in the history books as one of the most audacious and disturbing films ever made.