‘The American Dream’ the idea that in America you can rise from the streets to be a success using only your hard work and intelligence has been the staple of many a good movie. Some of the greatest heroes of the silver screen have walked the path. In Nightcrawler a different person takes the journey.
From the first few frames Director Dan Gilroy takes us on a familiar tour of the landscape of Los Angeles. In an intro reminiscent of Drive. The vistas of the bright lights only highlight the dark depths that we soon find ourselves in when we meet Gyllenhaal’s character Lou Bloom. Bloom is at once a memorable and off-putting character, his early violence in stealing from a security guard gives us the first insight in to the complete lack of empathy that is at his core. He steals scrap metal for pennies and after negotiating the price, offers himself up as an intern to the scrap yard boss. A chance encounter with a ‘Nightcrawler’ gives Bloom another chance to make money. In the film ‘Nightcrawlers’ are the freelance video journalists who monitor the police radio chatter, then try to beat them to the scene of an incident to get the footage. This footage is then sold to one of the many news stations in L.A. After again offering his services to the cameraman Bloom decides to try it himself after being captivated by the footage the next morning on tv. He steals a bicycle before pawning it for his first video camera.
Nervously twitching, showing no social skill and not knowing when to stop talking makes it easy to diagnose Bloom with a mild mental disorder, such as aspergers syndrome. It is a clever device in the movie. You watch uncomfortably as he continues to say awkward comments to everyone he meets, you dismiss him as an amateur, even forgive him because of his obvious mental issue. As he begins chasing the incidents his undoubted eye for detail and driven personality bring results. He stumbles upon the scene of a carjacking and sticks his camera in the face of the dying victim.
With the footage in tow he heads off to one of the lower ranked news stations where he meets Rene Russo’s news director Nina. Nina and Bloom share a faustian relationship throughout. After she initially encourages him with kind words about his footage, he begins to represent the devil she continues to sell her soul to for success. Gilroy cleverly keeps the relationship between the two off the screen making the viewer wonder how far Nina went to make Bloom’s footage exclusive.
With his first taste of success Bloom hires an employee off the street called Rick. Rick in a way is like the audience. He is along for the ride without realising fully what is going on with Bloom. He just seems to listen the ramblings coming out of Bloom and collects his nightly wage for being the navigator and assistant cameraman all the while Bloom becomes more driven, more passively aggressive and more determined to succeed. He breaks into a house where there has been a shooting, he moves the body at a crash scene to frame the shot correctly and then threatens Nina to go on a date with him or else he will sell his footage elsewhere. He buys a Dodge Challenger in bright red and begins making a name for himself. A meeting with the other Nightcrawler sets in motion a series of events where we see how far Bloom is willing to go to be the best.
He tampers with the van of the other cameraman causing him to crash seriously injuring himself, of course Bloom is there to film the carnage and give a triumphant look to his stricken rival. With the competition eliminated he finds his biggest story yet. He films two gunmen leaving a house in the rich end of town. After they leave he goes in and films the dead bodies. When in selling the footage to Nina he changes from the meek, mentally challenged Bloom into a much more sinister and calculating manipulator. He uses Nina to get his name announced as the source for the footage on air. He makes up the name of his news company and then switches into full professional mode. Continuing his manipulation he withholds evidence from the police and delays the capture of the gunmen until he can be outside to film the perfect shot.
Rick begins to rebel and realizes too late what a monster Bloom has become. He makes things difficult but his greed and curiosity make him carry on. Bloom shoots the perfect scene and follows the car chase to its inevitable crash. Rick and the audience are casualties of this as by the end we realize Bloom has played us all. He stands triumphant at the end with his own fleet of news vans.
The lack of any comeuppance for Bloom is a brilliant ending. Here is a character who has no redeeming features allowed to manipulate the tried and tested version of the American Dream before our very eyes. He is the typical movie loner in the tradition of Psycho’s Norman Bates or The Usual Suspects’ Verbal Kint. What makes the whole thing worse is the fact that he has no defined goal throughout. It’s as if he just decided on a whim to be the best in the business and there is nothing anyone can do to stop him. He claims to have self taught himself everything he knows on the internet and the detail he goes into supports this. Perhaps the director is trying to show us the danger of giving some people too much information or that no-one should be taken lightly despite first impressions.
Bloom’s sad lonely life keeping one plant alive has allowed his brain to mutate into the high level sociopath we see by the end of the film. Someone able to take the opportunity presented to him and turn it into a success. Only this time the audience don’t go along for the journey. They are left lying on the stretcher as Bloom looks down on them.