The “charming psychopath” trope is truly one of the tropiest out there, and yet we never really see it. Usually you can divide them between your Dexter Morgans – who are much less “charming” than they are “awkward,” a little bumbling, convincing all around that they are totally harmless anoraks, despite their ripped abs and blood on their shirt – and your Hannibal Lecters, whose definition of charm seems to be “hang your class privilege over absolutely everyone’s head and intimidate people into sucking up to you, even when you’ve killed people making less than minimum wage for being uncouth.” Nightcrawler‘s Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) finally, more than any other character I can recall, embodies the charming psychopath.
The main thing about them of course, is that the charm is studied, mimetic – forced, even – and, through its inorganic nature, will always eventually run its course for the people around the performer, much like a TV show that’s been on too long, relying on re-runs and unimpressive updates. (Did someone say The Simpsons?) Thus, whilst Gyllenhaal’s performance is absolutely stellar, it absolutely relies upon the support of the increasing unease on the faces of Rick (Riz Ahmed) and Nina (Rene Russo) to establish Lou’s relationship with the outside world.
Without a doubt, Nightcrawler‘s gritty sideways look the rubbernecking industry does owe something to Network but, frankly, I refuse to compare them: it’s uninspired and boring and there have been plenty of other journalistic satires over the years. What Nightcralwer does, to my mind pretty uniquely, is keep the narrative located almost entirely through Lou’s nocturnal eyes. This means – and praise God – none of those catatonically dull shots of people in diners asking the waitress to “turn it up,” or toast falling out of businessmen’s mouths at the breakfast table. Instead, Nightcrawler follows the stringer business as a business of the most objectivist: subjects are subjects of interests, human beings are human capital, even and especially in death.
I was, apparently mistakenly, under the impression before I watched it that Nightcrawler was based on the true story of Wallace Souza, a Brazilian anchor who ordered killings to ensure he could report on them before anyone else, including cops, could reach the crime scene. Thus, especially in the light of the film’s opening, in which Lou attacks, possibly kills, a security guard to steal scrap metal and a nice watch, I was waiting for his pursuits to escalate to straight-up committing murders. That his actions remain – arguably, and for the length of the film – just below that didn’t actually disappoint me; rather, it allowed Lou to be the icon of journalism bending the rules right up to breaking point, but not necessarily over it. That said, the ending and final image could have been a little more enigmatic.
As is the modern LA noir way, the film glows in the naturally unnatural lighting of the city, which – following Inherent Vice arguably is becoming just as much cinematographer Robert Elswit’s signature as it is Nicolas Winding Refns’. However, just as Lou’s neoliberal loquaciousness stands in opposition to The Driver’s near-mute levels of laconism, the neon incandescence of Drive remains unchallenged by Nightcrawler, whose atmosphere still rests on the surrounding natural beauty, and all the human treachery hidden within. My – possibly only – complaint about Drive has always been that there just isn’t enough driving, which contributes to a slight skewing of the film’s climax. Nightcrawler successfully delivers the driving I felt Drive held out on me, which makes me desperately want to watch these two, back-to-back, at my earliest possible convenience.
I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy Nightcrawler quite as much as I did, and maybe a second viewing will lower my rating, but it’s left me a very satisfied customer today.