When the 2014 Academy Award nominations came out a few weeks ago, I was somewhat surprised to hear Jake Gyllenhaal wasn’t nominated for his performance in Nightcrawler. It was a sleeper hit that I loved, primarily because of the performances of the leads, Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo.
Nightcrawler sees Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a fledgling news reporter whose obsessive ambition and lack of morals leads him to sensationalist tabloid video reporting, a la TMZ. He finds a mentor and champion in Nina Romina (Russo), a producer at a local LA TV station. She recognises in Bloom a ruthless fame-hungry collaborator and she encourages his worst impulses in the name of ratings.
Gyllenhall gives one of his best performances. He looks the part: under-slept, hungry, sunken cheeks and a twitchy demeanour. His portrayal of Bloom is masterful, by turns manipulative, pitiable, charming, loathsome. And it’s been far too long since we’ve seen Russo on screen. I loved her in In The Line of Fire and her charisma can elevate an OK movie to a watchable one (see: the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair).
Nightcrawler has a lot to say with regards to our society’s attitude towards privacy, the immorality of the tabloid media, when personal tragedy becomes ratings fodder and our own culpability in seeking it out. The film isn’t exactly subtle in its message but I think director Dan Gilroy was reflecting the blunt object shock factor of the media at the heart of the story. The nuances come from the performances, in particular Gyllenhaal’s. To my mind this is a creative high for him, standing alongside Brokeback Mountain as a career defining role.