starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton
written and directed by Dan Gilroy
I thought this was a great film, a story well told about a horrible person. I would not like to re-watch it. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a hardscrabble thief in Los Angeles trying to scrape a living any way he can. The film opens with him stealing and selling metal from public and private sources - street manhole covers, company perimeter fences, etc. His work keeps him active at night, in the dark, which is when he stumbles across a potential new line of work - freelance news videographer, or ‘stringer.’ He passes the scene of a road accident at night and meets Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a veteran of this kind of work. He eavesdrops on Loder and garners enough information to launch himself in the business with the cheapest equipment. His efforts are laughable at first, but capturing more blood and gore on video than the other guy in one news story gives him the edge over Loder, who quickly becomes Louis’s main rival as Louis’s aptitude brings success. A local TV station buys his tape, gives him advice and connections and he’s on his way into a new profession - a grotesque and morally questionable one, but …
Louis’s problem - and the source of his success in this work - is that he is ruthless, unscrupulous, self-centered and megalomoniacal - all virtues in show biz, corporate America.
Louis is an autodidact, a self-taught person. He’s bright and learns quickly. He claims to have studied a business course online and his speech is peppered with MBA-sounding classroom gobbledygook. He imagines himself launched on a grand business project, with a mission statement, a company with a company structure, and a business plan. He thinks everything is a negotiation, including principles. When we first see this in the film - and we see it very quickly and repeatedly - it is our first clue about his character. Or, character flaw as I prefer to think of it.
Soon he gets so good at his work that he manages to beat emergency responders to the scenes of accidents and other incidents. The first time it happened I accurately predicted that he would use the time to alter an accident scene, interfering with evidence, by arranging victims’ bodies in such a way to make his video more appealing to the news station bent on sowing more blood and horror in its pursuit of ratings, audience share, and money. His success motivated him to do it again until pretty soon he is manipulating people into dangerous situations where violence and bloodshed are highly likely so that he can safely film it. Of course, he doesn’t recognize his role and moral (not to mention legal) culpability in all this. He thinks, or gives the impression of thinking of himself as an innocent newsman legitimately satisfying the public’s right to know.
When I rented this DVD I imagined it would be something like a re-make of the 1972 TV movie The Night Stalker starring Darren McGavin (directed by John Llewellyn Moxey), and subsequently made into a short-lived (1974-75) TV series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I loved that show, about irritating but persistent Chicago newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak, who pursues mysterious crimes often leading to supernatural or science fiction causes. Nobody believed his discoveries, usually made in the spooky night of the city that never sleeps. The Night Stalker is sometimes cited as an inspiration for The X-Files (1993-2002). I thought Nightcrawler was going to be something like Night Stalker because the pictures on the DVD box obviously showed the action happening at night, and because Jake Gyllenhaal - holding a video camera and looking like a newsman - sports this awfully creepy face that just made me think of Carl Kolchak. I was disappointed.