Dan Gilroy’s 2014 film NIGHTCRAWLER has become one of my favorite films. It’s available on Netflix now, and I highly recommend it.
The hero, Louis Bloom, is a socpiopath. The mastery of the film is, through Gilroy’s writing and Jake Gyllenhaal’s acting, Bloom’s evil is revealed, and yet we are still compelled to spend time with him because he’s so damn fascinating.
Bloom is a young, aimless thief who decides he wants to become a stringer, or freelance news video producer, after seeing an experienced stringer record the scene of a bloody car wreck on the side of a highway in Los Angeles.
On a simple level, Bloom is an embodiment of the modern corporate ethic. He spouts cliched management speak and motivational guru bullshit that he admits he picked up from the internet, yet when placed in contrast to his amoral willingness to do anything to succeed, it becomes a disturbing reflection on American culture. It is as if we have created Bloom, and we have to watch our unhinged child grow into a dangerous man.
Bloom would be called an “antihero,” but I dislike the term. He’s the hero of the story, and the story is dark. There’s nothing “anti” about Louis Bloom. He wants praise, success, money, and all the things most Americans want. He is not counter-culture or antagonistic, except to people who get in his way, to whom he is brutal. He’s a corporation, in human form.
His first line in the film is telling. Confronted by a security guard while stealing fencing and scrap metal near the airport, he says, “I’m lost.” This is clearly true. Bloom later fumbles through an attempt to get the junkyard owner to hire him, but the man sees him for what he is — a thief — and dismisses him. He returns to the road, wandering, and comes to the scene of the accident, which becomes his inspiration.
This is also one of Bill Paxton’s last roles, and as one of Bloom’s competitors, he is fantastic.
What amazes me about NIGHTCRAWLER is how it presents a calculating loonatic who nonetheless gains our empathy. Bloom is looking for deep, true fulfilment, but his inner workings are so broken that he can only achieve a twisted version of success.
Side note: Writer/director Gilroy is married to Rene Russo, who is also fantastic in the film.
Seeing the world through Bloom’s eyes forces us to see America, and in particular, TV news culture, for what it is. NIGHTCRAWLER is a success story, in a system where success cannot be achieved without blood on your hands.