Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom is an outsider drawn to the nocturnal world of freelance crime journalism. Armed with a digital video camera and police radio scanner he joins the race to be first at the scene in the aftermath of gang wars, car wrecks, suicides and home invasion homicides. The right footage is worth thousands to TV news stations desperate for the next gory prime time exclusive – because “if it bleeds it leads”. Rene Russo’s TV producer Nina tells Bloom: “Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”
But when Bloom starts trespassing on crime scenes and making the news not chasing it, Dan Gilroy’s thriller enters a darker realm… Think American Psycho meets Taxi Driver as Bloom’s ambition sees him smash his moral compass in the chase for ratings while the dollar signs in his eyes reflect the twisted morals of a subverted American dream. “My motto is, if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket,” says Bloom. His persistence, at any cost, will reel you in as we ride shotgun with his assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) on the hunt for horror as Bloom explains of his profession, “I like to say that if you’re seeing me, you’re having the worst day of your life.”
It may be a scathing satire, and Lou Bloom a fictional character, but the roots in our reality are uncomfortably real. The actor spent time with the late night news stringers prowling LA like coyotes and Gyllenhaal told NME he sees the character as a classic anti-hero not a sociopath. We’ve all got camera phones so Gilroy’s film makes us realise we’re just a click away from being like Lou. But while we may think our moral centre keeps us grounded, it’s our insatiable appetite as an audience for voyeuristic mayhem which inspires and creates the Bloom’s of this world.
A chilling climax is made unpredictable and totally compelling by Gyllenhaal’s masterclass. His unnerving presence is reminiscent of Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle and Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman – you root for him despite his tragic flaws. From Donnie Darko, via Zodiac and Brokeback Mountain to the menacing streets of Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal deserves an Oscar for a restless and darkly comic transformation in one of this year’s best films.