Directed by Dan Gilroy
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, Kevin Rahm and Riz Ahmed
When Lou Bloom, desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.
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★★★★ review by Joe Zappulla on Letterboxd
It's really fun to fill in job applications as Lou Bloom. Here's Lou Bloom applying to Target.
Name: Lou Bloom
Address: 110 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90046
Phone Number: (323) 969-8760
What kind of position are you interested in?
I don't want to put myself in a corner by saying only one position. I am sure I can perform all of your available jobs with great confidence and ease. My experience and skill in the workforce will allow me accomplish any duty.
What type of employment would you prefer
I can work full time and more. I will be available any second of the day for you. I will work holidays, nights, mornings. Nothing will stop me for working tirelessly for you.
Do you currently have paid employment?
As of now I am the CEO of a small business, Video Production News, a professional news gathering service, that focuses on media based journalism but I would like to expand my sphere of operations and begin working my way up the retail ladder.
Have you previously worked in the retail industry?
While I have not physically attained a retail job, I embody the retail spirit through my other employment. I always put others first and will work diligently to make sure my customer is always satisfied.
Are you currently studying? If not specify the highest level of study achieved
I haven’t had what you’d call much formal education but
you can find most anything if you look hard enough. Last year I took an on-line business course, for example. I learned
you have to have a business plan before starting a business, and that why you pursue something is as important as what you pursue. The site advised you to answer the following question before deciding where to focus your abilities. The question was ‘What do I love to do?’ The site suggested making a list of my strengths and weaknesses. I recently remade my list and I’m thinking now that working retail might just be something that I love as well as
something that I happen to be good at.
List any Achievements i.e employment, education, personal, or sporting
My achievements are that I pride myself on being a hard worker. I set high goals and I've been told I'm persistent. This allows me to accomplish anything that I set my heart on, and now my heart is set on this employment position.
List any additional skills or training you have completed
While my aspirations, diligence, and persistence would normally be enough for any qualified candidate, I posses even more. I am comfortable with technology, I have worked with high quality cameras for the past months. I am a impressive driver, which is because of my outstanding reflexes. I am constantly researching and learning new things that will allow me to grow as an employee. For example, did you know that they've done studies, and they found that in any system that relies on cooperation, from a school of fish or say even a professional hockey team for example, these experts
have identified communication as the number one single key to success. I am very effective at communicating through simple and clear language. I know how to get a job done and how to convey that through words and motivate a team. I have recently hired a group of employees for Video Production News, a professional news gathering service, and have instilled in them the same qualities, so I would be a viable candidate for any leadership position in your organization.
List your hobbies interests or involvements
My only hobby is work. Why would I spend time honing useless skills when that valuable time could be spent building my career and increasing my area of expertise. My motto is if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket. I plan to buy many tickets.
Thank you for the business proposition and I hope you respond quickly. I eagerly anticipate working tirelessly for the Target corporation.
★★★★★ review by Naughty aka Juli Norwood on Letterboxd
It would be easy to write director Dan Gilroy's (directorial debut) neo-noir crime thriller off as just another story about a sociopath when clearly it is about so much more! It is a scathing commentary on a corrupt media where ratings trumps the basic principles of ethics, integrity and morals!
"If it bleeds it leads" mentality reflects man's primal bloodlust! We've essentially replaced gladiators slaughtering Christians in Roman arena's with the network news!
And if you take it one step further what does it say about the public at large that support networks whom foster and perpetuate discrimination using the weapons of mass propaganda namely fear and hate to target ethnic minorities and the poor!
Rock solid script that pulls no punches will pummel you with its brilliance! Jake Gyllenhaal's predatory tour de force performance alone is worth the price of admission!
★★★★½ review by DirkH on Letterboxd
My word. That Gyllenhaal fella can act, can't he?
Nightcrawler gives us a sociopath for our age. The age of media gluttony, fear mongering and wanton narcissism. Mr. Bloom can join ranks with and stand tall next to many other legendary screen psychos and look them dead in the eyes. With those horrific, empty unblinking eyes.
When Nightcrawler began and the opening act started to take shape I thought it would head in the direction of a dark satire. But every time Gilroy's camera served back to Bloom's freakishly intelligent and clinical gaze everything just felt too real to be a satire. A satire criticizes society and Nightcrawler doesn't really do that. It shows us an element of society as it is. Without critique, through the eyes of a singularly unique opportunist. The negotiations about news footage, the obtrusiveness of the camera, the glamorizing of crime in the news, it all happens on a daily basis. It's a part of life and Nightcrawler, like its protagonist, merely observes from the sidelines.
But what is it then? To me, it is an exploration of a clinical, sick, emotionless mind that deals in abstracts and transactions with one goal in mind, the glorification of the self. If there is an analogy to be found in Nightcrawler I feel it lies there. Bloom is society. He is the cutthroat career ladder, he is the monetary driven decision making, he is the fear to keep us all in check, he is the ego-driven society. And boy is he scary.
Gyllenhaal's portrayal of this egotistical, ambitious and disturbingly intelligent timebomb is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best performances of this or any year. The way he builds up the looming aggression is truly impressive. Bloom starts off as a smart talking know-it-all, trying to make ends meet. The type of guy you know there's something wrong with but you just can't put your finger on as to what that is. He makes you feel uncomfortable, with his bright smile and eyes that never really match it. His words, manipulative, arrogant and to the point, drive you in a corner, make you lose control and before you know it he has you. Bloom does this all the time and as the story progresses and his ego increases his disturbing true nature starts to scratch its way towards the surface. Sometimes subtle, sometimes in your face, Gyllenhaal gives life to an extremely disturbing and sick mind, that somehow feels, for lack of a better word, real. It's Gyllenhaal's show and he more than deserves centre stage.
Gilroy's film is smart and completely engrossing. He has crafted a harrowing tale without the sensationalism its protagonist is fueled by. He shows an impressive amount of restraint in how he says what he wants to say, never overstating the obvious and always dedicated to delving further into the mind of his main character. And even though the conclusion to the tale strays a bit from this approach it still manages to end on a disturbing notion.
The Blooms of this world get what they want.
★★★★ review by Aaron on Letterboxd
“On TV it looks so real.”
The chonmage was a traditional Japanese male hairstyle, usually associated with the samurai of the Edo period. Consisting of long hair oiled and tied into a topknot (commonly with the top of the head shaved), it is the formal name of what might colloquially be called the “samurai bun.” While it began as a practical device—the knot was used to hold the samurai’s helmet in place—it eventually became a status symbol in Japanese culture, which is to say, it became a thing that existed to draw attention to itself and its bearer.
In Japan, the chonmage fell out of common use, consigning itself to the province of sumo practitioners. But in the West, the chonmage has recently come into fashion among a certain set of young men, popularized by the Jared Letos and Cary Fukunagas and Harry Styleses of the world. And as it had come to be previously, the bun’s chief purpose is to shine on its owner a spotlight. All grooming exists, among other reasons, to sculpt an image—even a simple shower, in addition to its other benefits, marks the showered one as hygienic. Through one’s clothing and styling and general deportment, one makes a statement—“I’m professional,” perhaps, or “I’m free-spirited,” or “I’ve given up on human contact.” But sometimes the statement is, first and foremost, “Look at me.”
It makes sense, then, that Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) often ties his hair in a chonmage-like topknot. As with so much of Lou’s behavior, it is mimicry divorced from any underlying humanity. But it is also attention-seeking. Everything Lou does cries out for notice. He is constantly thrusting something—a camera, an extortionist threat, the whites of his eyes—into others’ faces. Lou is driven to succeed, in ways both morally abhorrent and sadly familiar, but the terms of Lou’s success require the recognition of his fellow man. It is no coincidence that one of his most impassioned demands is for proper name-checking, in both graphic and verbal form, of his enterprise: Video Production News, a professional news-gathering service.
Names and modes of address, of course, speak volumes. Lou knows this—it is why to Nina (Rene Russo), desperate graveyard-shift news producer, he presents himself as “Lou,” the casually obsequious, ingratiating up-and-comer, while to Rick (Riz Ahmed), the dimwitted homeless man Lou hires as an assistant, he presents himself as “Louis,” the superior who is not to be addressed by the crude informality of a nickname. But when given the opportunity to craft a name from whole cloth, Lou chooses “Video Production News, a professional news-gathering service.” It is...accurate, I suppose, if semantically generous. It bears the hallmarks of a legitimate company doing legitimate work. But it somehow sounds...off, as though translated from a foreign language. It’s hard to put one’s finger on precisely what is wrong with the name—perhaps it is the coda, which insists upon the operation’s professionalism and validity in a manner Queen Gertrude would find suspect. No amount of well-sequenced business-speak can lend credence to a sociopath’s operations.
Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler makes no pretense as to its antihero’s psychological state. It begins with Lou stealing scrap metal from a construction site, blatantly (and unconvincingly) lying to the site’s security guard, then beating that security guard senseless (and, for all we know, dead) in order to avoid prosecution (and stealing his watch in the process). Lou’s distorted and relentless drive for self-actualization leads him to want a career in line with his morally colorblind ambitions, and he happens to stumble on just such a vocation at an auto accident site where camera-laden vultures steal graphic footage for auction to the highest-bidding local television news station. It is a path that suits the predatory, nocturnal Lou perfectly.
Much can be said about Nightcrawler’s and Lou’s pop cultural parallels—to toxic media satires like Ace in the Hole and Network, to studies in deranged self-absorption amid urban underbellies like Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Yet none of those comparisons do Gilroy’s film many favors. Nightcrawler’s observations about the soulless depravity of the news media seem set in a strange universe in which cable news and the Internet do not exist and rarely stray beyond the jejune “if it bleeds, it leads” / “won’t somebody think of the children?” dyad. As good as his performers are (and they are all excellent), Gilroy’s moralizing has all the anti-subtlety of Chayefsky or Haneke with little of Network’s demented wit or the Austrian maestro’s clinical iciness to offset it. And neither Lou nor Gilroy’s script can hold a candle to Scorsese’s early masterpieces of municipal decay and psychotic delusions of grandeur.
But that matters little when Nightcrawler plays to its considerable strengths as a scuzzy thriller about the unholy offspring of a self-help guide and a Six Sigma manual. Gyllenhaal is as mannered as usual (and as terrific as usual of late), his gaunt frame lending Lou an alien quality (accentuated by unblinking, terrifyingly intense eyes). Gyllenhaal manages to invest Lou with a stirring sense of intelligence, drive, and ambition to go along with his complete lack of moral bellwether. Arranging accident scenes for maximum grotesquerie and ignoring civic duty like most people ignore a mild headache, Lou’s progress from petty misdemeanors and ethical no-nos to the most severe of felonies makes its own sort of internal sense as a business plan while being utterly horrifying to gaze upon. Just as disquieting is Lou’s clear (and self-acknowledged) lack of empathy. Speaking only in lingo derived from seminar handouts and darkest online rabbit holes, Lou wears a disingenuous smile that he occasionally pairs with an equally insincere laugh, miming what his observations have told him is the behavior of an affable but driven go-getter, a guise he trades for threats and insinuations once he senses a suitable shift in the power dynamic. Unlike Travis Bickle, Lou does not fancy himself an avenging angel out to rid the city's streets of scum—he merely wants to climb the mountain as fast as possible, the better to be gazed upon with fear and loathing. That the mountain is constructed of the feces of a century's worth of vermin is of little consequence.
Russo and Ahmed are equally good as the craven, careless Nina and the sad, pliable Rick, respectively. While Nina pursues ratings at all costs, openly favoring tales of threatened white privilege over anything approaching journalistic integrity, there is a weariness to Russo’s performance that suggests Nina is less a dismay-mongering cretin than a worker bee resigned to her sad lot in life. And Rick’s slow awakening to Lou’s depravity provides Nightcrawler with a belated sense of moral compass—a sense that is sadly not paired by Rick with enough mental agility to slow Lou’s destructiveness.
As good as Russo and Ahmed are, however, Nightcrawler’s focus remains squarely on Lou. When that focus is on Lou’s increasingly unethical tactics, Gilroy’s film sizzles, particularly in an extended late sequence involving an apparent home invasion gone terribly wrong and its aftermath. Combining the horror, procedural, and action genres to delirious effect, Gilroy (aided by Robert Elswit’s gorgeous cinematography) captures a Los Angeles that is at once frighteningly seedy and hypnotically beautiful.
Occasionally Gilroy’s script drifts into incoherence—particularly hard to swallow are Lou’s demands of sexual favors from Nina given the emphasis on Lou’s lack of recognizable humanoid sensation. And the ending leaves something to be desired, straining for an “evil triumphs over good” gut-punch and holding several beats longer than it should (why Gilroy didn’t cut to black immediately after Lou’s oily speech to his newest acolytes is tremendously puzzling). But Gyllenhaal pulls the threads together admirably, creating a compelling character out of a man who exists as nothing but voracious caricature. When Lou tells Rick that his trouble is not that he fails to understand people, but rather that he doesn’t like them, it is a threat masquerading as advice masquerading as self-analysis. And yet it is thoroughly wrong-headed. Lou is right to say that he understands people, in much the same way that Cruella de Vil understood puppies. But for Lou to dislike people assumes an emotional module that his system completely lacks. Lou does not dislike because he is incapable of disliking—instead, he simply does not care.
Roger O. Thornhill said that, in the advertising world, there is no such thing as a lie, only the expedient exaggeration. In Lou Bloom’s world, there is only expediency as an end in itself, chasing a spotlight receding down a long road to nowhere. And it looks so real on TV.
★★★★½ review by Evan on Letterboxd
Gyllenhaal has just asserted himself as the next best thing. Absolutely unreal performance. I can't even put into words how great he was.
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