No city represents the double edge of the American Dream like Los Angeles. The City of Angels is home to glitz and glam, idyllic beachfront, cosmopolitan melting pots, enchantment, and dreams. Yet, like the movies made in La-La Land, many contain false fronts. A façade cheaply constructed to resemble something real, something to strive for, something to die for. Maybe even something to kill for. Many have, and many more will. The tragedy of the American Dream is that there is a built-in caveat: Where there is a will, there is a way.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) embodies that spirit in its totality. A man driven by success, Lou prides himself on his professionalism (“My Company is Video Production News, a professional news-gathering service.”), ambition (“I’m a hard worker. I set high goals, and I’ve been told that I’m persistent.”), and relentlessness (“Why you pursue something is as important as what you pursue”). Like the city he inhabits, it all sounds well and good; just don’t look too hard beneath the surface.
Los Angeles is home to four million souls. Lou was just another one, drifting aimlessly until he met Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a freelance videographer cruising the mean streets of LA, listening to police scanners, trying to be the first one on the scene of a burglary, a hit and run, a homicide, or, as news producer Nina (Rene Russo) puts it, “A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”
Thanks to “if it bleeds, it leads” sensationalism, nightcrawlers are there to capture the grisly aftermath and sell the footage to the highest bidder before most people get down their first cup of coffee. As far as Lou’s concerned, it’s good work if you can get it, and a couple of happy accidents later, Lou is in business with Nina as his go-to customer. Lou hires another wandering soul (Riz Ahmed) as his assistant, takes out the competition, and begins to wonder if finding the grisly aftermath is enough. What if he began creating it himself?
Nightcrawler is the first film directed by screenwriter Dan Gilroy (whose script garnered a Best Original Screenplay Oscar nomination), an impressive debut. Gilroy dispenses with Lou’s backstory and denies the audience any explanation for the sociopathic behavior we see. Lou is so calculated that he constantly talks without revealing anything about himself, making Gyllenhaal’s performance all the more impressive.
Gyllenhaal has been giving stellar performances for years, but in Nightcrawler, he has never been better. Not because Lou covers an arc, changes, learns anything, or rights any wrongs. He doesn’t get better, and he doesn’t get worse. Louis doesn’t evolve one iota. He simply finds his place in the world. Not a monster created whole cloth, but merely one of the many who already stalk the streets—a 21st century Rupert Pupkin or Mark Lewis, someone who will stop at nothing in his relentless pursuit of perfection.
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy
Produced by Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed
Open Road Films, Rated R, Running time 117 minutes, Opened Nov. 2, 2014.