“Something in your kitchen may be killing you. Find out what, right after these commercials.” You’ve probably heard that, or something much like it, during your local news broadcast. This low-level fear mongering is the outlets way to get you intrigued so you’ll stick around through the ad break. It’s a method that’s been used for decades, with cable news channels ramping it up even harder to keep you in a constant state of anxiety. Dan Gilroy’s film Nightcrawler is about the people tasked with terrifying you.
Jake Gyllenhaal turns the creepiness up to 11 as Lou Bloom. He’s a petty criminal capable of doing atrocious things, but he chooses a career change when he sees a horrific accident on the highway and a camera crew shows up to tape the rescue of a woman in the car. News outlets are willing to pay big money for this kind of footage, and Lou’s complete lack of empathy makes him a natural.
After a couple run-ins with the cops, who we all know don’t want people filming, Lou finally catches something on tape that a news outlet might want. He takes the tape to the LA CBS affiliate and meets their news director played by Rene Russo. They’re the lowest-rated news network in town, so she’s willing to take a chance on this shady character who might help save her job.
With this new business partnership, Lou Bloom wants to build his brand. He uses the money from his footage to upgrade his equipment and hire on an “intern” to help navigate and listen to the police scanners for violent crimes, preferably in affluent white neighborhoods: “A carjacking in Compton isn’t news.”
Gyllenhaal plays Bloom as a sociopath hellbent on doing things his way. He’s willing to go to great lengths to get the best footage-really awful things that aren’t just unprofessional but completely amoral. This ranks as Gyllenhaal’s best work to date (his Travis Bickle, honestly), and he’s been on a streak of strong performances over the past few years.
Nightcrawler is one of the most astute looks at american media since Network. In this TMZ era we live in, being first is more important than being right. Being shocking carries more weight than telling the truth. And those willing to sacrifice what little humanity they started with will succeed above all others.