Growing up in the Midwest, my perceptions of Los Angeles were formed, like many, through what I saw on television and movies. Having never visited the City of Angles as a child, I was fascinated, like many, by the glamour and aura surrounding the city that our beloved American celebrities called home (or, mansion, if you will). The beach, the parties, the girls, the Lakers – it all seemed so cool, so different. However, as I grew older, I became less interested in in the Beverley Hills and Hollywood end of the spectrum and increasingly intrigued by a darker side of the city. Movies like Pulp Fiction, Boogie Nights, Drive, The Big Lebowski (among many others) exposed LA in a much bleaker light, paralleling the bright lights of Hollywood with a brutal criminal underbelly. Even some music of my teenage years helped pique this unique interest. Some of my favorite hip-hop music during that time were SoCal-based rappers like Tupac and N.W.A. whose lyrics painted a less-than-rosy picture of the LA landscape. Thus, unsurprisingly, I was a huge fan of the terrific 2014 drama Nightcrawler, which followed the same stylistic paradigms as its more well-known cinematic predecessors.
The story centers around a mysterious man named Lou Bloom, who we see in the first scene sell obviously-stolen metals and materials at a Los Angeles scrap yard. Bloom, portrayed by the wonderful Jake Gyllenhaal, then showcases his excessively bold nature by attempting to ask the scrap yard manager for a job after the sale, and is quickly denied. A shameless conman and sociopath with unclear motives, Bloom seemingly jumps from scheme to scheme in an attempt to acquire steady cash. He then stumbles upon a car crash and interacts with a camera crew who converge onto the scene. Fascinated and likely sensing a new business venture, Bloom finds out the crew (who call themselves “stringers”) sell crash and similar footage to local news stations in return for cash. After a petty theft here, a white lie there, Bloom eventually secures a video camera and police radio and starts his own makeshift stringer business. Infatuated with the power that comes along with being a “business owner”, Bloom goes on to hire a down-down-on-his-luck employee, Rick (played by Riz Ahmed of The Night Of fame), who he quickly exploits. The two find themselves recklessly chasing gruesome accidents and news fodder in seedy parts of Los Angeles in search of headline-grabbing footage, which proves lucrative as they sell their footage to a television news director named Nina. Nina and Lou start a working relationship, which Lou also quickly manipulates and exploits. As the film moves forward, Bloom becomes increasingly brazen and involved in the stock footage he craves, putting himself and his partners in compromising positions along the way.
It’s a thriller, without a doubt. Gyllenhaal’s eerie portrayal of Lou Bloom is a fresh take on the anti-hero style we’ve seen so much of recently in our favorite programming (Walter White right a bell, anyone?). What is the character’s true motivation, money? Power? Both? Neither? Who knows… and I’m pretty sure that’s what director and screenwriter Dan Gilroy wanted when crafting the story. Gilroy, who grew up in a Hollywood family (his brother co-wrote the latest Star Wars installment, Rogue One), was virtually unknown prior to his breakthrough with Nightcrawler, which currently sits at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and garnered a host of accolades, including a “Best Original Screenplay” Academy Award nomination. This was also the first movie Gilroy directed, but its difficult to tell given the high-quality, polished cinematography. The story is exhilarating, as are the terrific acting performances. In my opinion, this is Gyllenhaal’s finest work (and I LOVE him in Prisoners) to date. As is customary with today’s top actors, Gyllenhaal dove headfirst into the role, losing a ton of weight to craft his desired look and also performed most of the fast-paced driving scenes himself.
Nightcrawler isn’t a super challenging movie for viewers by any stretch, but it’s also not going to make everyone jumping for joy as the credits. It’s not a smooth beginning/middle/end that leaves viewers content when it’s over, as Bloom isn’t the kind of character someone would really ever want to cheer for. But the acting and gloomy lenses through which the characters look at their city and society in general makes for a all-around great flick.
How to Watch – Nightcrawler is currently on Netflix
Oddities – Rene Russo, who stars as the main female supporting role Nina, is married to director Dan Gilroy
Photo Credits – Reddit, Youtube, The Washington Post