Psychopaths in film haunt audiences with their genius, complexity and villainy. In the last half-century, filmmakers have utilized fewer vampires, aliens and beasts and leaned towards skewed reflections of the human psyche. This trend has lent itself to some of the most iconic characters in film, from Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter to Patrick Bateman.
While the horror genre will always seek to dazzle and shock us with the not-so-far-away terrors of humanity, it is not often that a crime-thriller will put one such persona at center stage. Examples such as the aforementioned psychopaths serve more as caricatures than believable people in society. They rarely compel and hook viewers as completely and realistically as Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Louis Bloom in “Nightcrawler.”
In Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Bloom (Gyllenhaal) quickly enters the underground world of independent crime journalism. Armed with nothing but a camera and a police scanner, Bloom scours the Los Angeles night scene in search of the most recent and gruesome news footage he can sell to the highest bidder.
Bloom’s methods are dubious at best as he acquires graphic footage of night crimes while manipulating both his work and the people around him to further his obsessive career-oriented agenda.
The film opens with beautiful landscape shots of Los Angeles. Audiences are brought into the beauty of the pre-dawn city with stunning imagery and visual metaphors at which Gilroy excels. These cityscapes are a bold graduation from the poor stock footage many directors would use for establishing shots in this manner. Gilroy does not stop with his eye for long shot compositions as he uses the camera to visually keep audiences invested in the action. Whether the camera is tracking a high speed pursuit through the streets, or adopting the limited scope and space of Bloom’s hand-held camera, Gilroy creates a tension that builds with each frame.
While the film compels us aesthetically, Gyllenhaal also draws us in with his mesmerizing performance. While on screen, Gyllenhaal commands a kind of neurotic charisma. His articulate and rapid dialogue along with his creeping wide-eyes attract and repel viewers who are uncertain whether he will furtively diffuse tense scenes or explode in psychotic rage. He is driven and ambitious. He pursues his budding career as a contract video journalist with a calculating fervor and precise thought process which guide his amoral ascension in the newsroom.
In every aspect of production and narrative, the film keeps viewers glued to the screen waiting to see how far Bloom will go to get the shot he needs. His news director instills in him the message “if it bleeds it leads.” Bloom takes it a step further in this action-crime-thriller which entertains and delivers a sharp commentary on the content delivered by television news.