The old maxim “If it bleeds it leads” has been heard at least once in every newsroom the world over. The more sensational the story, the better placement it will receive in the newspaper or on the nightly news. “Nightcrawler,” a new movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, takes it one step further.
The news director of KWLA, Los Angeles’s lowest rated morning news show wants more than just blood. What leads on her broadcast? “A screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”
Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a slick talking drifter who falls into the freelance news gathering business after he overhears a stringer negotiate a fee for some ENG footage. He has the chutzpa and talent to get lurid footage of crashes, fires or murders no one else can…. or will. He violates crime scenes to get “first look” footage and isn’t above sabotaging the competition. “If you’re seeing me,” he says, “you’re having the worst day of your life.”
His sole client is Nina (Rene Russo), news director of the “vampire shift” at KWLA. His sensational footage is giving the station a much needed ratings bump, but soon Lou is revealed to be a compulsive manipulator who will not let anyone or anything get in the way of his success.
The name “Nightcrawler” and the October 31 release date suggests that this is a horror movie, conjuring up images of vampires and other nocturnal creeps, but this isn’t a traditional horror film. Instead it’s about the horror of a greedy sociopath and the ripple effects of his behavior.
Lou is a ruthless predator, a high school dropout who speaks in platitudes—“A friend is a gift you buy yourself.”—but isn’t above using violence to get what he wants. He’s bent on success at any price and regards one bloody car crash victim not as a person, but as “a sale.” Gyllenhaal dives in with both feet, delivering a terrific performance that fills the space vacated by Gyllenhaal’s vanity with tension, menace and charisma. When he says, “What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” he proves to be remarkably self aware, embracing his bad behavior and being well rewarded for it by Nina.
Russo, as the news director who buys into Lou’s methodology, is a cautionary tale of exploitative media and Riz Ahmed hands in a star making turn as Lou’s naïve intern Rick.
“Nightcrawler” paints an ugly picture of the news business, but it’s not simply a satire or condemnation. It’s frequently funny and there are some very tense action scenes, but at the end it is Gyllenhaal’s bold performance that stands out.