Jake Gyllenhaal’s transformation to fit the role of Lou Bloom, the shifty seedy focal point of Gilroy’s chiller thriller, has received nearly as much attention as the film itself. His face is gaunt. Nearly skeletal. Cinematographer Robert Elswit’s slick lighting accentuates this, adding shadows to the actor’s face.
Lou Bloom is “the other” often thrown around when discussing philosophy. His eyes bulge and bore into everything he stares at. His intense attitude and steely dedication are highlighted in the film’s opening minutes. “I’m a quick learner,” he says. Gyllenhaal spits everything off with a rapid fire conviction. Bloom discovers the world of freelance videographers, “Nightcrawlers,” and he not only assimilates – he becomes King. Bloom is constantly assessing those around him. Every conversation exists as a negotiation of sorts. He’s a manic character, a true character of the night. Those around him, a rude-crude Bill Paxton and B-grade news director Rene Russo, are analyzed and eventually intimidated. Lou squeezes them all.
Few scenes in the film are explicitly violent or shocking. It carries its R-rating firmly but never becomes viscerally offensive. Instead, Nightcrawler quietly menaces and unnerves. It is silently twisted. Writer/Director Dan Gilroy coaxes out what might be the best performance of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career.
Many have called Nightcrawler satire. It does highlight and condemn sensationalism and humanity’s need for consistent shock factor, and there’s a slice of a cynical look at the American Dream as well. But it’s really an examination of its leading man, and those like him. Bloom consistently brushes pure evil. He’s an inhuman, a ghoul. It is the one restraint keeping Nightcrawler a notch behind Travis Bickle and Taxi Driver. He is “the other.”
Gilroy and Gyllenhaal, along with Elswit’s vibrantly sleazy visuals, have delivered a true thriller. Not just in its capacity for tension and chills, but in its DNA. Pitch black comedy slices throughout, evoking well-earned laughs, but make no mistake: Nightcrawler is a horror film.