Car Crash TV
In 2001 Jake Gyllenhaal played the iconic character Donnie Darko and thus the benchmark was set by himself for his future film roles. Whilst Gyllenhaal is consistent and frequently excellent in the roles he has played in films such as Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac and Prisoners he, for most people, will always be synonymous with the troubled teen in Richards Kelly’s dark opus. But now with Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal has created a new character Lou Bloom, to sit alongside the ranks of Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in terms of idolised giddy manic and who is destined for future cult status. It is also a film where, whilst the other components are admirable, once you have seen Gyllenhaal in the role of Bloom, you cannot imagine anyone else in the role or the film working without him.
Lewis ‘Lou’ Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is an enterprising but small time misfit, we first encounter him stealing copper security fencing and selling it back to the local metal yard. He is though, despite a through sales pitch to the yard owner, unemployable. Bloom heads out into the night, driving the streets of LA when he sees a car ablaze by the side of the road and two policemen dragging a woman from the burning wreck. He stops to look and watches as the crash is filmed by a small crew, led by Bill Paxton’s ‘stringer’ Joe whose simple mantra ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ gives Bloom the incentive to become a stringer too, a freelance crime-scene videographer. Armed with a camera, a police scanner and a car, he begin his nightcrawling, at first with little success but as his ambition and desire grow, he pushes the limits and begins to excel in his dubious pursuit, selling his work to news channel editor Nina (Rene Russo) who takes a shine to his eye for the work. Nina explains the type of footage they are looking for as ‘screaming woman running down the street with her throat slashed’ and Bloom takes this remit and runs with it, like an animal hunting its prey, he stalks the streets with a hunger for capturing the most violent and horrific footage he can. His singular focus for the ‘story’ leads to disturbing and dangerous consequences, which push beyond the boundaries of morality.
First time director Dan Gilroy (whose previous work was as a screenwriter for The Bourne Legacy and Real Steel) has created a socially ambiguous ride which cracks at a ferocious pace and commands unwavering attention, it could be a companion piece to Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, as it delves into the grimy underbelly of the streets of LA. The screen pulsates with a brooding malice, interspersed with flashes of neon nightmares, the world is a dark place that breeds on the mantra of Gordon Gecko, that greed (in whatever form it takes) is good. The direction is at times as controlled and methodical as its character Bloom but then breaks into action, capturing a horrifying accident or shooting an authentic car chase that makes Fast and Furious look like CGI child’s play.
At the jet black heart of Nightcrawler is Jake Gyllenhaal, shed of 30lbs, his puppy dog eyes now hollowed to bug eyed obsession, he is an audacious tour de force. Like the ultimate Apprentice candidate, Bloom wants the all American dream, to have it all, to be his own boss, spouting management jargon with an unflinching self belief that is at times so outlandish but also comical. Reno Russo gets a role to sink her teeth into as station editor Nina, driven by her own need to stay on top of her immoral game and Riz Ahmed as Bloom’s assistant Rick brings a sense of consciousness to the film, he is clearly out of his depth in Bloom’s employment yet is compelled to stay by his need for work.
As we see Bloom compile his footage, like a training montage from a sports film, the descriptions of his clips such as horror hijacking and toddler stabbing are juxtaposed with the soundtrack that implies this is the hero’s score, a kind of anthemic tune plays. Is Bloom our ultimate anti-hero? Are we complicit in his actions as we want to see the horror, the type of TV that you, despite its nature, you cannot turn away from? Is Bloom merely a product of these materialistic times where naked ambition is rewarded? These are sartorial questions that the film may raise but doesn’t ram down your throat; it simply takes you along for the ride to leave you appalled yet sickeningly entertained. Buckle up for a dark night out.