Jake Gyllenhaal made his name in the American cinema when, at age 19, he starred in Donnie Darko, playing the 2001 cult classic’s eponymous, psychologically troubled teenager. A dozen and a half roles later, he returns to his dark and twisty roots with his portrayal of Louis Bloom in this fall’s much-hyped crime thriller Nightcrawler. Over the course of his 20-plus-year career, Gyllenhaal has taken on a host of roles, but if the captivating Nightcrawler proves nothing else, it proves this: Gyllenhaal shines his brightest when he’s channeling the unstable and morally depraved. There’s no actor in Hollywood today who can pull off creepy quite like Jake.
Nightcrawler follows Louis Bloom, an intensely ambitious and manipulative man living right above the Los Angeles poverty line — thanks to his knack for petty theft. Bloom is a character that is tough to armchair diagnose (though “sociopath” seems like a term that would figure prominently in any professional evaluation). His story shifts into high gear when he stumbles upon a wreck on the side of the freeway and meets a “nightcrawler” — a cameraman who tracks crime via a police scanner and sells footage to the morning news. Bloom strikes up a relationship with the lowest-rank news station in L.A. and their graveyard shift producer, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), who only wants footage of “suburban crime” with “white victims.” As Bloom climbs up the news ladder, he simultaneously descends into darkness until he is both documenting horrendous crimes and committing them himself.
Nightcrawler is a contemporary film that takes place in the modern era, but it has all the intelligence, grit, and tightly wound tension of a psychological thriller like The Conversation or Taxi Driver. Every element is sharp, taut, and unapologetically grotesque. The film, appropriately enough, recalls the kind of highway accidents that its characters capture: You slow down your car to rubberneck, you can’t look away, and the images burn themselves into your mind and haunt you miles and miles down the road.