“Nightcrawler” Casting Review

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

Nightcrawler is a dark love letter to Los Angeles and the business that is Hollywood. The story revolves around a creepy loner named “Louis Bloom” who is just trying to make it in LA–chasing the American dream if you will. He will stop at nothing to achieve his goals (something that he repeatedly emphasizes often), and will go to any length to get what he wants. The film is lovingly shot in the streets of Los Angeles (you’d be surprised at how many films these days don’t shoot in LA), and gives you a gritty look at the dark side of this media-driven industry–specifically, sensationalist video journalism. Although news broadcasts tend to get away with showing graphic images and content on television in the name of reporting current events, there’s no denying that the general public tends to pay more attention when something horrific is being aired. As the saying goes, “sex and violence sells”, with the news often used as an outlet for the latter.

Louis Bloom is played by Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain), and his work with this character is something to behold, if not be terrified by. As previously mentioned, Bloom is hard working and driven, but to a sociopathic degree. This is made disturbingly clear at the outset of the movie when Bloom is caught red-handed by a security guard for trespassing on private property. At first, Bloom tries to sweet talk his way with the guard, but when that doesn’t pan out, he quickly resorts to violently attacking the man to make his escape. These 180-degree character flips are a recurring theme with Bloom throughout the story, and only further adds layers to Bloom’s psychosis. One moment he’s selling stolen goods to a constructor, and the next he’s asking the guy for a job. One moment he’s flirting with a professional acquaintance, the next he’s sexually blackmailing her–and the list goes on.

Gyllenhaal’s Bloom is a kind of hybrid of Christian Bale’s “Patrick Bateman” in American Psycho and Ryan Gosling’s “Driver” in Drive, and the result is a twistedly shocking delight. Gyllenhaal has already been garnering a lot of awards buzz for his performance here, and with good reason. Not only is he able to give life to the Frankenstein monster that is Louis Bloom, but he does so with so much gusto that the character becomes the very thing the movie is commenting on, i.e., society’s unending fascination with watching deranged depravity. Bloom is, at his best, an anti-hero in this piece, and for the most part, everything he does in pursuit of his goals and ideals is down right messed up . . . yet we can’t take our eyes off of him. Not only does Gyllenhaal create an inherently creepy persona in Bloom, but he also went through a fair amount of physical changes to really embody the guy. Typically known for his hunky leading man looks and muscle-y physique, Gyllenhaal shed a considerable amount of weight in order to emphasize the kind of person Bloom is. Bloom is desperate and hungry (in all senses of the words), and his gaunt like features only further accentuate the oddities of his behavior. Although I’ve been a fan of Gyllenhaal’s work over the years, even I was a bit surprised at how odd and different he looks in this film. Even something as subtle as his eyes, is vastly different in Nightcrawler, and they exuded a shimmery, bug-eyed quality that both intrigues and disturbs you at the same time. Bravo, Gyllenhaal.

Even though we are able to get a pretty good grasp at the kind of person he is at the beginning of the film, it’s only when the story really takes off that we see the extent of his madness. While Bloom continues his struggle to make a living for himself, he quickly stumbles upon an interesting profession: freelance work as a nighttime video journalist. Although the job title sounds harmless enough on paper, in actuality it basically entails capturing gruesome crimes and accidents on camera and then selling the footage to whichever news station will pay the most for it. You can only imagine the type of people and personalities this kind of profession would attract, so Bloom taking interest in this is a recipe for glorious disaster. Bloom, being the resourceful and diligent worker that he is, quickly learns the ropes of being a “stringer”, and is able to make a name for himself. He hires an “intern”, establishes a working relationship with a local news station, and is even able to edge out his competition. Granted, he is able to do so through shady and illegal means, but that’s just how Louis Bloom operates!

Since Gyllenhaal is the driving force of the film, the cast is kept to a bare bones minimum, which helps keep the focus on Bloom, as well as Los Angeles, which can very much be considered its own kind of character here. Even though the cast is small, there are still some folks worth mentioning. When Bloom is able to add an intern to his “company”, he hires “Rick”, a wiry LA native who is even more hard up for money than Bloom is. Rick is played by Riz Ahmed, and although he’s a solid working actor (Four Lions), most will probably consider him an unknown up-and-comer. Fortunately for Ahmed, he readily pops alongside Gyllenhaal, and is probably already experiencing a considerable boost to his career because of this. Ahmed’s Rick is essentially a willing accomplice to Bloom’s constant dangerous escapades, and he soon realizes that he is in way over his head in this new line of work. Rick acts as Bloom’s navigator, assistant camera man, and voice of terrified reason. I’m a firm believer that great actors tend to force those around them to step up and bring their “A game”, and Ahmed should be praised for stepping up to the challenge. This is especially the case when the actor in question (Gyllenhaal) is playing such an intense character, and one can only fathom what it must be like to play opposite that kind of person.

Rounding out the film’s sparse cast are “Joe Loder” and “Nina Romina”, played by Bill Paxton and Rene Russo, respectively. Paxton’s Loder is a nighttime stringer and is actually the person that inspires Bloom to get into the business. The two have a kind of professional rivalry (Loder’s company is by far the bigger, more established of the two), which Bloom takes to a whole other level as he tries to even the odds. Paxton is an everyman type of actor, and can readily play almost any kind of role. The handsome leading man, or the charactery anti-hero, he’s played it all. Russo’s Nina is a producer for a local news station and becomes a sort of business “partner” to Bloom. Nina is Bloom’s first go-to for juicy footage, and although she’s initially in a position of power over Bloom, he quickly turns the table on her in his usual sadistic fashion. Nightcrawler also marks a reunion of sorts for Russo and the film’s writer/director Dan Gilroy. Gilroy was also the writer for the film Two for the Money, which Russo starred in opposite Matthew McConaughey and Al Pacino.

Lastly, we can’t forget the film’s other “character”–the city of Los Angeles. Considering that very few films actually shoot in LA these days, it’s, ironically, a bit refreshing to see a film whose story is firmly grounded in the life and culture of the city. Although LA is often thought of as a bright and bustling entertainment hub, it definitely has a dark side, which is embodied all too well not only through Gyllenhaal’s Bloom, but through the other characters as well. Everyone here may seem hardworking, driven, and even charming on the surface, but deep down, everyone is just looking out for themselves and always worried about money, their careers, and job security–comparisons that can easily be drawn about Los Angeles and the entertainment industry, specifically.

Nightcrawler has been garnering a lot of word-of-mouth buzz with serious talks about Gyllenhaal going up for the “best actor” category. The movie also provides some much needed counter programming to the plethora of period pieces and biopics this awards season. Make sure this one is on your radar!

 

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Kyle