Ambition meets amorality.
"I'm a little lost," Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) admits to the security guard who's caught him stealing chain-link fence in Nightcrawler. A petty thief unable to land a real job, Lou's gaunt appearance makes his perpetual grin appear less than trustworthy, and his overly rehearsed rhetoric rings more hollow with each passing encounter. But in due time, Lou is drawn like a moth to the very real flame of a car wreck on the L.A. interstate. He doesn't help the paramedics or police. Instead he observes the parasitic cameramen out to get juicy footage for local news stations.
From that moment on, Lou sets out to find himself a camera and a police scanner, followed by a news producer (Rene Russo) interested in buying his better clips and an intern (Riz Ahmed, in a wonderfully wary supporting turn) who's eager to work the GPS. Lou doesn't seem to sleep, getting the goods at night and staying up to capture their subsequent broadcast. Furthermore, he doesn't seem to care about anything or anyone else, not if it means getting the best of angles on the worst of situations.
Writer-director Dan Gilroy is a veteran scribe making a splash similar to the one his director brother Tony made with Michael Clayton. Nightcrawler may not have much more to say about the bloodthirsty media realm than Network skewered back in 1976, but that satire is secondary to Lou's tenacious, self-delusional rise through the ranks of ambulance-chasing camera crews. We're given no tragic backstory for our antihero, and Gyllenhaal's terrifically fierce performance gives us no need to wonder. The evident byproduct of self-actualization seminars and good, old-fashioned amorality, Lou epitomizes all-American ambition left to curdle in the media spotlight. The extent to which he's willing to endanger others comes to a head in a nerve-wracking finale.
Lou's wrongheaded convictions lead to a pair of show-stopping monologues amid uncomfortable exchanges with his direct competition, Joe (Bill Paxton), intern Rick and producer Nina. In fact, Nina tests the boundaries of news ethics as much as Lou does, without leaving the comfort of her control room. Much as Robert Elswit's sharp cinematography captures the danger and appeal of after-hours L.A., James Newton Howard's score is an ominous accompaniment to Lou's nocturnal scavenging.
Gyllenhaal's character preys on the inability to look away that Lou and Nina specialize in exploiting, plumbing unspeakable depths with determination. This helps make Nightcrawler a thoroughly gripping portrait of an utterly modern sociopath.