Earlier this year as some of you might recall I wrote a short series looking at films that I felt should have won the Oscar for Best Picture over the ones that actually did. I had planned on writing a concurrent series looking at films that should have at been nominated for more awards than they were, but due to timing and my own laziness quite frankly I was only able to muster one series of features.
Thankfully in a nice bit of luck, one of the films I was dying to talk about in that failed series just so happens to fit nicely into this feature about loners. I am of course talking about Dan Gilroy’s fantastic dark thriller Nightcrawler, a film about a loner who, unlike the others in this series, doesn’t seem to hate his isolation, but seems to thrive in it.
The film follows Lou Bloom, a plucky enthusiastic man eager to find himself a job in Los Angeles. After struggling to find any kind of conventional work, Bloom comes across the world of local TV news and becomes enters the world of tabloid news, prowling the mean streets at night and recording video footage of car crashes, police chases, shoot-outs, murders etc, to sell to the local TV stations and earn easy money. It is this profession that Bloom finds his calling and one in which he soon becomes frighteningly proficient.
While I can perhaps understand and forgive the Academy not nominating Nightcrawler for more Oscars (it only received a nomination for Best Original Screenplay) what I can’t forgive is the travesty that was the failure to at least give a Best Actor nomination for Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance as Lou Bloom, a truly unsettling turn that I think has the potential to become as iconic a character as Travis Bickle.
As Bloom, Gyllenhaal gives possibly the best performance of his career thus far, managing to create a truly unnerving anti-hero that we are both scared and enthralled by, even as his actions becomes increasingly terrifying and repellent. The actor’s gaunt physical appearance which gives him something of an almost literal appearance of being “hungry for success” adds an extra layer to proceedings, with Gyllenhaal looking deeply unsettling.
Lou might be a dangerous sociopath, but we can still empathise with his plight and understand why he does what he does. Lou starts the film in a predicament that we all find ourselves in, unemployed and struggling in our search for a job, with his eagerness to work and his infectious “can do” attitude being somewhat admirable and endearing. After watching the film for the first time I found Lou’s catchy motto “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy the ticket”, echoing in my head for weeks afterwards.
A way to think of Lou’s story and character is a bit like a dark twisted version of the age-old story of the plucky upstart who “wants to make it big in the big city”. Lou wants to be successful in life; it just so happens what he does is to capture on film the most horrific things that often happen in the “big city”, sometimes manipulating events to earn more money from his tabloid news buyers.
While in this series I’ve focused very much on the loneliness of the characters and how it often suffocates them, leading them to take drastic measures or commit morally dubious acts to them to commit morally dubious acts in an effort to be noticed, to find some kind of companionship or to simply get back at the world.
In the case of Lou Bloom, however, I get the impression that this is a man who revels in his loneliness, with him seemingly despising most people of the people around him, viewing them as mere props to aid him in his own success.
Note the manner in which he treats his sidekick Rick (played by Riz Ahmed) not as a friend or colleague, but merely as an employee to do his bidding and one that he doesn’t hesitate to berate or put in harm’s way to get those special images. Or note the downright vicious manner he sometimes talks his supposed superior Nina (Rene Russo) demanding that she behave a certain way when they sleep together, screaming at and berating her. This is merely the impression that I get of the character and some are bound to disagree with my interpretation. I’d love to know what you think dear readers, so let me know in the comments how you interpret the character of Lou.
However, it’s not just Gyllenhaal’s performance that makes the film so great; it’s also the impeccable direction from veteran screenwriter Dan Gilroy who jumps into the director’s chair with both feet, creating many brilliant moments of terror and excitement in his directorial debut.
My favourite part of the film comes in its climax as Lou and Rick follow a high-speed police pursuit. The chase itself, with Lou following in a high-end muscle car, is exhilarating as he ducks and weaves through traffic, narrowly avoiding one catastrophic crashes after another by a hair’s breadth. The whole scene is outstanding and is arguably one of the finest car chases I’ve ever seen in a film for quite some time, with it being tightly edited and brilliantly staged with some truly fantastic stunt work to boot.
Bolstered by a brilliant script, brilliant direction and a truly creepy and sinister performance from Jake Gyllenhaal as what will surely become an iconic film character, Nightcrawler is easily one of the best films of this present decade and much like Taxi Driver it is a film that is likely be discussed and examined till the end of time. A truly fantastic piece of work that I highly recommend.
Thanks again for reading this series with me. If you have any films about loners that you enjoy and wish to recommend do feel free to recommend them in the comments. They can be dark character studies much like the films I’ve spotlighted in this particular series, or if you prefer they can be slightly more comedic or lighthearted films, after all, if loneliness has a dark side, it surely has a light side. Leave your suggestions in the comments. Thanks.