Nightcrawler (now streaming on Netflix) is enthralling because we’re natural born gawkers. We are fascinated by the pain and drama of others, and that fascination is normal, but it can be lead to evil things when someone lacks empathy like Jake Gyllenhaal’s glassy-eyed Lou Bloom. Nightcrawler pushes the boundaries of how comfortable we think we should feel about our attraction to train wrecks.
Bloom’s a sort of mash-up of Patrick Bateman, 1940s crime scene photographer pioneer Weegee, and Wallace Souza, a Brazilian news broadcaster who arranged for five murders so his team could be the first to report on them. Bloom’s over-the-top and cartoonish, but he’s also anchored to a grisly reality.
“He needed to be underweight. He is a coyote in this desert land, searching for meat. That is Lou,” Gyllenhaal told The Star about his character. “And when you see coyotes walking around in Los Angeles, they’re skinny. They have a hunt in their eyes and that was constantly my inspiration and . . . it was all born out of an idea of him being a coyote.” He lost nearly 30 pounds for the role, and his thin face emphasized the hollow look in his large eyes. He also got little sleep during the shoot, and ran 15 miles every day from his home to the studio. Hunger and exhaustion inform every bit of his body’s calculated and strange movements. This type of starvation and desperation can disconnect us from each other. He is an isolated man, turning again and again into himself.
What’s also jarring is that most of the mantras Lou recites are actually good advice. But, he’s only memorized business leadership and self-help lingo on a superficial level. Instead of integrating this knowledge in a natural way, he slaps it awkwardly into his conversations, and uses it as rationalization for the the awful things he does. He has no empathy, he fails to see other people as more than objects to move and influence in his own solipsistic game.
Gyllenhaal was only able to play such a sociopathic and deranged man by connecting with him in a number of ways. “I would say that, like Lou, I am ambitious in that when I believe in a role . . . and I believe in an instinct and I have an idea for it, I’ll go all the way,” he’s said. He went so far, in fact, that he improvised the scene where she smashes his hand into a mirror, a move that both surprised director Dan Gilroy and landed Gyllenhaal in the E.R.
Gilroy consulted with Raishbrook Media Group to make sure the film was realistic, and the Blu-Ray includes some documentary footage of working with them. “I have seen people drop dead behind me in my rear-view mirror,” Howard Raishbrook says on the special feature. “You see muzzled flashes of guns as you drive around corners. A 15-year-old kid with an AK-47 comes out and levels the AK-47 at me and fires. I get it on tape. It’s all about getting that first shot.”