TV news is a competitive business. Every station wants the big story. Some will pay good money to freelancers with video cameras for exclusive footage.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an L.A. ne’er-do-well who wants to go legit. As Nightcrawler begins, he sells fence (chain link) to a fence (guy who buys stolen goods) and asks the buyer for a job. When Lou happens upon a news photog (Bill Paxton) shooting video to sell to TV, he decides to try it himself.
Lou finds a willing buyer in Nina (Rene Russo), a news director at an L.A. station whose ratings need help. Lou continues to bring graphic footage to her and the ratings inch upward. “If it bleeds, it leads” is a TV industry half-joke, one with more than a grain of truth behind it. In the battle to titillate news viewers, Nina keeps asking for shocking video.
As the checks roll in, Lou hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed). He buys a new, faster car. He gets better monitoring equipment to listen in on police calls.
Lou is a scheming pragmatist who aggressively woos Nina with logical arguments and, of course, exclusive video. His online research tells him that she has had trouble keeping a job and that she will soon be up for renewal. She needs him.
Lou boldly goes into places he shouldn’t to get juicy footage. Eventually he goes too far. But even when he oversteps, he continues to bring the goods to Nina and her news team. She has few boundaries regarding what she’ll put on air and Lou responds. Nightcrawler may exaggerate the lengths TV stations will go to lure viewers, but not by much.
Gyllenhaal’s Lou is a likeable charmer. He’s a bit smarmy, not far removed from Leave It To Beaver’s Eddie Haskell. Even though he does things that are wrong, it’s easy to root for him. He’s also funny—though not always intentionally.
After last year’s excellent performance as a detective in Prisoners, Gyllenhaal follows with a completely different character and another memorable role. At age 33, he has already amassed a respectable acting resume. As he moves into more mature roles, I look forward watching him grow into a major film star.
It’s good to see Rene Russo back onscreen. Except for the Thor movies, she’s been absent for the last decade. At age 60, she brings appropriate intensity to her role as Nina.
I’m happy to report that rookie director Dan Gilroy (he also wrote the script) did not make Nightcrawler to rip into the TV news biz for its love of crime and gore. He accepts that as a given. Instead he focuses on bringing this interesting character and his story to the screen. Good jobs, Dan and Jake!