With both of his parents, not to mention his sister, involved in filmmaking, Jake Gyllenhaal has every reason to live off his name and make easy, unremarkable movies. Instead, except for a couple of notable exceptions, Gyllenhaal has proven time and again that he’s willing to take on challenging roles in order to elevate both himself and the art form.
He’s at it again in Nightcrawler, in which he gives a performance that should easily earn him a second Oscar nomination. He plays Lou Bloom, a man who’s just skating by on the lower end of society. That is, until he discovers the job of freelance videographer: People who troll police radio calls for car wrecks, fires or bloody crimes; film the gory results; and sell the video to local TV stations.
Gyllenhaal’s performance in Nightcrawler should easily earn him a second Oscar nomination.
Realizing he has a knack for that kind of thing, Lou quickly develops a bond with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the news director for a low-rated station. But faced with competition from other videographers and an unceasing desire to become something more than he is, Lou soon starts resorting to underhanded means of getting the video he needs.
There are a number of factors that contribute to the success of Nightcrawler, including the cinematography by Robert Elswit and the score by James Newton Howard. But if ever a film were a one-man show, it is this one, as Gyllenhaal makes the movie his own from minute one.
Lou gains more and more confidence as the story goes along, and Gyllenhaal’s performance gets more and more intense. He speaks in a way that’s rushed yet somehow calm, using words — written by writer/director Dan Gilroy — obviously chosen to make Lou seem more educated than he actually is. There are times when Lou is obviously threatening the other person in the conversation, but Gyllenhaal’s voice rarely rises to a shouting level, which actually makes him more intimidating.
Even more impressive is how likable Gyllenhaal makes Lou despite the number of increasingly unlikable things that he does. There is obviously something not quite right with Lou, but you always want things to go well for him, even as he gets closer and closer to truly going over the edge.
Although there are a couple of other big names in the film, like Russo and Bill Paxton, neither of them can hold a candle to Gyllenhaal. In this respect, Gyllenhaal might actually be masking some of the movie’s underlying faults, but he’s so good that it’s hard to care about any mistakes.
Some may attempt to parse Nightcrawler and its indictment of local TV news, but I’d rather bask in the greatness that is Gyllenhaal’s performance. Like 2013, this is turning into another stellar race for the Best Actor Oscar, and moviegoers are the clear winners.