** SPOILERS **
Dan Gilroy's sensational Nightcrawler is a mesmerizing plunge into the seediness of Los Angeles at night that exceeds Michael Mann's Collateral and Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive as lurid, violent joyrides. We ride along with "Nightcrawlers," professional freelance videographers who make their living recording crime, accidents, tragedies to sell to local television news stations greedy for sordid content to boost their ratings. This world and the opportunities it presents lights up the perpetual saucer eyes of Jake Gyllenhaal, a petty thief and loquacious sociopath searching for a leg up in life. In stalking the unfortunate of Los Angeles, camcorder in hand, Gyllenhaal has found his true calling.
Completing his trifecta of films where he seems desperate for 15 minutes of shut eye (Prisoners, Enemy), the emaciated and greasy-looking Gyllenhaal goes all out in Nightcrawler. It's an engrossing performance by Gyllenhaal of a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. And what Gyllenhaal wants is to be the best at what he does, along with everything that ought to come with it. This includes money, recognition, and it especially includes Rene Russo, the producer of the vampire shift of the local TV news station who gives Gyllenhall his first break professionally but comes to rue getting in bed with this guy (literally). Russo's marching orders to Gyllenhaal is to bring back footage where urban crime creeps into wealthy suburban neighborhoods. Gyllenhaal is beyond up to the task.
When Gyllenhaal trespasses into the wealthy home of three victims murdered by Hispanic men, he chooses to withhold his footage from the police in order to manipulate events to get even better, more dramatic footage of the police arresting the murderers. Despite everything going horribly sideways, Gyllenhaal remains un-phased at the consequences of his actions. In a standard Hollywood film, Gyllenhaal would undergo a change of heart and seek redemption. To Gilroy's credit, the uncompromising Nightcrawler pushes Gyllenhaal even further into the realm of sociopathy so that he never gets his comeuppance.
All of this ends tragically for Gyllenhaal's hapless employee, Riz Ahmed, who pays dearly for daring to rebel against his bosses' wishes after being "promoted" to "Vice President" of Gyllenhaal's company Video Production News. The relationship between Gyllenhaal and Ahmed, the two of them blazing through the streets of LA in Gyllenhaal's red muscle car, is in some ways the heart of Nightcrawler; a twisted take on Batman and Robin where Robin sadly gets what's coming to him. Everyone in Nightcrawler is a victim for Gyllenhaal to exploit. And yet, as Gyllenhaal rises in his chosen profession to take his place as the top Nightcrawler in LA, what an inspiring tale of entrepreneurship Nightcrawler is. If there's a lesson to be learned from Nightcrawler, it's that you can be anything you wanna be!