“Nightcrawler” is much less about an individual character, and more about persons, or in this case, the American dream.
We open on a depth of harsh shadows, smattered over the grime of Los Angeles. The slick posters and soundtrack for “Nightcrawler” seep 70s influence, with a bit of the synth and style from the 80s; thanks, James Newton Howard. It’s a remarkable backdrop to plop our characters into, and director Dan Gilroy does it oh so well.
We follow the ambitious, manipulative, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). Within the first few minutes of the film, we meet him as he scraps a security fence. A security guard steps up and is beaten, but we never find if he survived the encounter. Bloom moves on to sell his scrap to a local junkyard, and after being denied, despite his eccentricity and work ethic, stumbles upon a car accident. This is the inciting incident that spurs Bloom onwards to develop a career in video production news, also the absurdly generic title of his soon-to-be video business.
He meets freelance night crawling videographer, Joe (Bill Paxton), and Rick (Riz Ahmed), a down and out schmuck who just needs money to support himself. Bloom begins to pursue a career in videography, and meets Nina (Rene Russo), the new coordinator at Channel Six News.
For the remaining two hours or so, Bloom sees the supporting cast as tools to achieve his goals. Carefully maneuvering those around him as chess pieces, where he plays both sides. This is a defining feature, that if he is the so-called conductor of this orchestra, what actually is his goal? Using the chess analogy, playing both sides, he controls each person, but to what means? That being said, he never really changes, nor do we see more of his back story or his character. Realistically, Bloom isn’t necessarily a person, but more an ideal.
Bloom effectively manipulates Nina to accomplish his means of getting airtime with his shockingly graphic news clips that stretch the boundaries of what is ethical, or at some points moral. The interesting point of filmmaking here, is that Lou only engages in sexual relations with Nina to feed his carnal desires. He has no interest in any kind of committed relationship, but what is most intriguing is Gilroy’s choice to not include any scenes of sex in “Nightcrawler”. There is reference to their acts later in one scene where the eyes of his deceased partner, Rick, lie between Nina and Lou in a still frame from the camera, as Lou degrades Nina into realizing how badly she needs him and his video footage. This is possibly the most poignant shot of the film, and entirely dehumanizes Lou. Suddenly, we reach confirmation in our minds that he isn’t a character, but a symbol of the American dream of climbing to the top of the cesspool of business and fame and wealth, and ruthlessly tearing down everyone in our way.
Another fascinating creative choice is Lou’s appearance depending on the time of day. The majority of “Nightcrawler” is filmed at night, but in the day, Lou hangs out at home, windows curtained over, and TV blazing local news. His apartment is bleak, and we can’t see everything inside. When he does venture out in the day, he almost always wears a pair of shades, hiding his eyes underneath. It is in the evening when he can sneak and slither around freely, uncaring of who sees him, because it is his natural habitat.
What strikes me about this and themes of our vicious cycle of success is if Lou does indeed represent the American dream, then it makes sense for him to thrive in the evening. The snide nature of success in our country is naturally a very dark and unspoken thing. More frightening is that we would deny this is the state of things, and in the same way, Bloom dons shades to hide himself, yet the disgusting lust for power still exists in broad daylight, whether we admit it or not. It even infiltrates our homes, basking in the dark, waiting to strike, waiting to pulverize anyone who dares to fight it.
Some might make a case for “Nightcrawler” being the example of sensationalism in our media and culture, but let’s be realistic here. How much more ugly and hidden is our denial of the idolatry our nation devours, called “success”?
Lou pulls his hair back into a nasty, greasy ponytail, so that it doesn’t get in the way of the dirty work he desires to accomplish. He almost peers into our souls with his actions. Yes, we do these things too, don’t we?