Nightcrawler: Jake Gyllenhaal Shines as Sleazy, Amoral Photographer in Nocturnal Los Angeles

nightcrawler_posterIn “Nightcracker,” the topical thriller, written and directed by Daniel Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal proves that his range as a dramatic actor is wider than previously thought to be.

There’s been a lot of publicity about his physical transformation to play the part, losing over 30 pounds, deglamorizing his handsome face, changing the way he walks, his voice and mode of delivery.

Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a misfit Angeleno, a sleazy freelance crime photographer, always on alert in the nocturnal streetscapes, ready to shoot and sell the latest gory crime and grisly accidents.

Gilroy aims his barbs as the insatiable lust of the news media for prurient stories and graphic news footage through the downside of journalism in a growingly immoral and amoral world where every citizen wants to become a celeb–as quickly as possible and by using all means, legit and illegit. He immediately grasps that crimes against white upper middle class people take precedence over anything that happens black, or any other persons of color.

It all begins when Louis encounters Joe Loder, a freelance journalist (Bill Paxton), who chases down potentially gruesome incidents and sells the footage to local TV stations. Excited by the sight and job prospects, Louis buys a cheap video camera and radio and begins chasing aggressively bloody accidents. (He almost wills them to happen so that he can sell the footage for profit).

Main plot details the relationship that evolves between Louis and Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a news producer at a small TV station who buys whatever gruesome footage Louis brings.  Soon what was strictly a professional bond, based on cold calculations, adds a more personal and erotic dimension, and the director should be commended for a tautly staged restaurant scene in which Louis presents his conditions and expectation from Nina, who age-wise could be his mother.

The ultimate professional, Louis has no scruples and shows no emotions, dealing in a detached and dispassionate mode with his chosen metier.  Soon, he takes on an eager apprentice, Rick (Riz Ahmed), and begins training him in all the technical aspects of the job. Louis is always on alert, because he never knows when and where his next big “gig” will come from and what shape will it take, a car accident, a carjacking, and so on.  The tale builds up to an extremely well executed home invasion, which is sort of the climax, forcing a risky confrontation between boss and apprentice.

Gyllenhaal is playing an extreme variation of Peeping Tom, a character that appeared in 1960 in two seminal movies: Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” starring Anthony Perkins, and Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom.”  “Nightcrawler” also contains touches of Antonioni’s influential 1966 film, “Blow-Up.”

As played by Gyllenhaal, Louis Bloom is a new type of American villain, an eager, ultra-ambitious young man, who embraces fully the greed aspect of the American Dream.  He is a product–the worst nightmare–of the New Order, shallow, manipulative to a fault, and possessing the kind of knowledge and language that one acquires by endlessly watching TV and surfing the Internet.  But he is also likable, using and abusing his charm whenever needed, and showing some peculiar cultural habits, such as watching old movies on TCM,

Gyllenhaal’s astonishing performance, which dominates every frame of the film turns “Nightcrawler into a scarily astute character study, one that despite its somber tone, is not entirely devoid of strange, wicked humor.