Set on the mean streets of modern day Los Angeles, Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut is a delicious and twisted media satire starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a ghoulish loner called Louis Bloom, who exploits human misery for personal gain.
It’s a tour-de-force and genuinely creepy performance from the handsome Oscar-nominated star of Brokeback Mountain, who has shed a significant amount of weight to portray an emaciated social limpet, who lives by the mantra that good things come to those who work hard.
In the case of Nightcrawler, this ‘work’ involves monitoring a police scanner, racing to crime scenes and capturing gruesome footage of critically injured victims on a handheld camera to sell to TV news stations, who are hungry for raw footage of real-life crime.
Gilroy’s lean script doesn’t shy away from the despicable and morally repugnant actions of the bloodthirsty anti-hero, nor does it forget to remind us that we are culpable for devouring this graphic news footage.
If only we turned off, or could drive past a motorway accident without glancing at the carnage when we should be concentrating on the road
Louis is a product of base human desires and, like a vampire, he feeds off them with ghoulish glee.
When we first meet Louis, he’s struggling to find direction in life, until he pulls over on a highway close to a fatal accident and meets cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton).
“If it bleeds, it leads,” cackles Joe, who sells his footage to the highest bidder.
Louis purchases a small camera and tries his luck then approaches Nina Romina (Rene Russo), ratings-hungry editor of the graveyard shift at one news station, with amateurish footage of a victim fighting for life.
She pays up and explains that her perfect newscast is “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut”.
Taking these words to his blackened heart, Louis hires an inexperienced protege called Rick (Riz Ahmed) to capture gangland shootings, murder and misfortune in grisly close-up.
At first, Rick recoils in disgust but inexorably, Louis moulds his employee in his own warped image.
Nightcrawler is a bravura and audacious debut from Gilroy that captures Los Angeles at its most grimy.
Every crackle of Louis’ police scanner heralds potential doom and the director impresses in a pivotal action sequence, which sees Louis and Rick join a police chase in pursuit of valuable footage, regardless of the risks to pedestrians or other drivers.
Gyllenhaal distorts his screen image as a charming, buff leading man beyond recognition, slithering through each frame like a predator in search of the next kill.
Russo is luminous in a meaty supporting role and London-born actor Ahmed captures the right mix of naivete and nervousness as a fellow passenger on this sickening descent into the abyss.