In one of my least eloquent moments in recent memory, ahead of the screening for Nightcrawler, I said to a friend, “Jake Gyllenhaal makes me sweaty.” Steering briefly away from outsider characters, such as his breakthrough Donnie Darko, Holden in the underrated The Good Girl, and his Oscar-nominated performance as Jack in Brokeback Mountain, Gyllenhaal opted for a handful of action flicks and romantic comedies, securing his spot in Hollywood hunkdom. But in his latest role, arguably his strongest and undeniably his seediest performance to date, Gyllenhaal has once again stepped into the shadows.
Having shed over 20 pounds and all traces of likability, sporting oily hair and sunken eyes, Jake Gyllenhaal is the cold and calculated—and often richly and darkly comedic—Lou “you-can-call-me-Louis” Bloom. Having flirted with thievery (that’s the extent of his backstory), Lou falls into tabloid reporting, hustling video footage of street crime and home invasions to local news stations to fuel morning show dribble, an unglamorous profession in which body counts captured on camera are bragged about with the same casual ’tude a barista would use when rattling off latte orders.
Lou is a natural talent, slipping through cracked doors, and ducking police tape to get the best shots—the bloody money shot. Lou, however, sees himself as more than talented. He is both an artist and an entrepreneur, and as such, he is more concerned with the most compelling composition rather than the facts. His approach to news, or rather creative nonfiction, crosses all ethical boundaries—even James Frey would disapprove—leading him to tamper with crime scenes to get the perfect framing, lighting, and angle. Similarly, his ethical code, or lack thereof, infects all his relationships, personal or professional. And sickeningly so (you’ll see).
It is this seemingly heartless man who is the beating organ of Nightcrawler, a film that attempts profundity via media criticism, but ultimately impresses because of its careful character study of America’s newest Psycho. Though, where Patrick Bateman’s moral lapse was ostensibly chalked up to a psych disorder, Lou—who never wields an axe or a butcher’s blade, but has blood on his hands nonetheless—defies diagnoses, as if his disregard for ethical boundaries is symptomatic of the times. Gyllenhaal’s intriguing, despicable, and completely contemporary villain may not make you sweat, but he’’s guaranteed to make your skin crawl.
NIGHTCRAWLER | R | IN THEATERS NOW