Movie review: ‘Nightcrawler’ delivers on creep factor
In taking the lead role of Lou Bloom in this creepy psychological horror film, Jake Gyllenhaal dropped about 30 pounds. Besides looking kinda scrawny, his face hollowed out and his big eyes look even bigger. This is all a good thing when you’re playing a loony, and you know right from the start that Lou Bloom has psychotic tendencies.
Lou has no job, no direction in life and not a hell of a lot of common sense. He pays the bills by stealing metal fencing around L.A. and reselling it to junkyards. Then he meets his first nightcrawler. In TV news jargon, that’s someone who goes out at night, following leads from police scanners and, camcorder in hand, rushes to the scene of a crime or an accident, gets bloody footage and hightails it to whatever local TV station will pay the most to put it on the air first.
Lou is fascinated when he sees freelance nightcrawler Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) in action, and decides he wants to do the same thing. If all it takes is a scanner and a camcorder, he can ask a few questions — more like badger people with endless questions — then head out and do it himself.
Shortly after getting his first accident footage, where he also gets in the way of police and medical workers, he barges in to an L.A. TV station, does some fast talking and soon meets Nina (Rene Russo). She’s the news director on the “vampire shift” who knows what her viewers want — graphic urban crime and accident videos — and since her station is the lowest-rated in the city and it’s sweeps time, Lou is hired on the spot as a freelancer.
She also unknowingly unleashes a monster.
“I’m a quick learner,” he brags to her, even before he has any idea of how to do what she wants him to do.
But he hires Rick (Riz Ahmed), a shiftless fellow who just needs a job, telling him the pay is low but it’s a good opportunity. That job is to be a navigator as Lou maniacally drives around town following bloodshed. Before long, it’s clear Rick is a dimwit and Lou is a boss who you do not want to disappoint.
The film hints there are no scruples among nightcrawlers before brazenly showing it when Lou breaks into a shooting scene, steals footage and gets it to Nina. He wants to impress her, and receives the praise “Outstanding work, Lou,” in kind.
Joe Loder has long been busy chasing the grisly stuff, and now so is Lou, and their paths keep crossing. When Lou at one point beats Joe to an accident scene, Joe offers him a job. That’s right around the time Lou builds up the courage to ask Nina out on a date. Both requests are answered with a “No,” and while Joe just shrugs it off — not wise when you’re dealing with a psychopath — Lou doesn’t take it well. He knows Nina’s in a desperate spot at work and calmly tells her, “You need me and I want you.” It’s hard to figure out exactly what drives this guy, but it’s plain that he’s frighteningly persistent.
The film kicks up a notch in creepiness when it’s revealed there are no lines Lou won’t cross to get what he wants. The movie then goes further by presenting many more lines popping up right in front of him. One involves him beating the cops to a major scene of carnage, getting footage of dead bodies in a private home and of the killers (who don’t see him) and getting out of there before the cops arrive.
It’s the point in the film where we realize once and for all that Rick knows the difference between right and wrong and that Lou is oblivious to it. There’s a regular supply of shocking plot turns and unbearable tension, along with an atmosphere of dread and all sorts of violence. And there’s Lou, just a man doing his job: happy, smiling and insane.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, with Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton. Rated R.