During the past decade there has been an uptick in movies and television with anti-heroes in the lead role. A lead with questionable morals isn’t a new development.
Watching characters struggle to live with their imperfections on screen helps us feel better about ourselves and our own problems.
The question is, how far can a character go down a questionable path without losing the audience? Nightcrawler puts that question to the test.
Nightcrawler is the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy, who you may know as the writer of The Bourne Legacy. Gilroy also wrote the script for Nightcrawler, and delivers a twisted tale of one of the most unlikable lead characters in recent memory.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays “Louis Bloom,” who from the outset of the film makes the audience feel uncomfortable. The way he talks, interacts with people or controls his body gives clear signs that something is off with this guy.
Looking for work and not afraid to get his hands dirty, Bloom stumbles upon the life of a Los Angeles freelance cameraman, focusing on events that he can film and sell to early morning news stations.
This leads Bloom to “Nina Romina” (Rene Russo), a director of a local news station who continually reminds viewers of the sad truth about television news: If it bleeds, it leads.
One reason anti-heroes work so well is despite their negative characteristics, the majority of those characters have at least one or more redeeming qualities. The trick about Nightcrawler and possibly the key to its success, is Bloom has zero redeeming qualities.
The lead constantly goes deeper down a rabbit hole of questionable morals and illicit activity, yet it’s still a shock each time Bloom reaches a new low with his behavior. Much of this credit goes to Gyllenhaal, who portrays the character with enough weirdness that audiences, hopefully, won’t be able to compare him to anyone they know. At the same time, Gyllenhaal plays the character with enough subtlety that Bloom never feels cartoonishly evil.
Bloom and the screenplay by Gilroy keep viewers on their toes. Any expectations the audience may form are dashed away quickly.
Like its lead, the film is hard to predict and won’t leave anyone with happy feelings in their belly, but that isn’t a bad thing.