Stalk Footage

“I’m looking for a job. In fact, I made up my mind to find a career that I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I’m a hard-worker, I set high goals and I’ve been told that I am persistent.”

In an early scene from “Nightcrawler,” Louis Bloom, Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, seems to be a creepy nobody who sells stolen metal scraps for a living. But when he asserts for work, you realize he crows like a cocky go-getter. Even so, it hardly negates his creepy vibe. His gaunt face, his tunnel stare, his Professor Snape hair. The little angel on your shoulder warns you to stay away from him, but the movie nudges you to follow.

One eventual night, Louis pulls over near a car crash and witnesses a couple of cameramen shoot the fiery aftermath. He sees the footage on the morning news and becomes inspired in trying it too. He soon acquires a secondhand camera and a police scanner that can point him to a local crime in real-time. His first night drives him to a carjacking outcome and films a bloody victim in close-up. He sells his footage to an impressed news executive (Rene Russo), who encourages him to stalk for more grisly and graphic material.

“The best and clearest way that I can phrase it for you, to capture the spirit of what we air, is think of our news cast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut,” she explains.

Louis Bloom flowers into the profession. He cheaply hires an assistant (Riz Ahmed) and soon acquires a sleek muscle car. The self-described hard-worker was right about himself after all. His goals are towering and his persistence frightening. He tampers with evidence for the sake of a good camera angle. And even orchestrates bad events so he has something grisly to shoot and lucrative to sell. The guy is so unstoppable that even the movie is powerless against him.

The movie takes a risk with its circling fascination for Louis Bloom. Dan Gilroy has written a detailed, unnerving creature and Jake Gyllenhaal solidly inhibits the character cold. Together, they gave birth to a plausible protagonist, who relentlessly plans and commandingly propels the tightly suspenseful plot. “Nightcrawler,” as straight forward as can be described, is a character-driven thriller.

Still, a first-rate character simply does not make a first-rate character-driven movie. If Louis is in the driver’s seat, then everything else seems to be roadkill. The best scenes of its capable supporting cast is limited to expressions of disbelief to Louis’ immoral audacity. Even the profession of nightcrawling and the dubious coverage of news, both initially interesting, is simplified as a mere bumps to the unstoppable Louis Bloom.

So what the hell happened? For most of its run time, “Nightcrawler” seemed like a crafty thriller ride. But when it was over, the movie, along with the audience, ends up crashed and burned. And the only one left unharmed is the creepy go-getter with gaunt face, tunnel stare, and Professor Snape hair.

Grade: B