Nightcrawler opens as we see Lou Bloom, who starts out as simple a small time thief, as he is stealing from a construction site, and proceeds to beat down a police officer who catches him. From this first scene it is abundantly clear that Lou Bloom is not your average sort, and nor is this an average performance by Jake Gyllenhaal. Gyllenhaal's whole appearance is quite something all in itself with his particularly gaunt appearance, and the way he rarely ever blinks. Gyllenhaal's stare is terribly piercing in just how large his eyes are and just how unwavering they are. Gyllenhaal makes these alone allude to at least three things about Lou Bloom. The first being that he might be more than a little off as a man, the second being that it seems as though Lou is always looking for as much of something as he can possibly take in, and thirdly is that Lou purposefully is always watching other humans for a very specific reason, which I will get to later. I won't wander around the point though Gyllenhaal's physical transformation here is absolutely remarkable in that not only does it feel wholly natural in creating the peculiar man that is Lou Bloom, but Gyllenhaal completely disappears into this role.
Gyllenhaal's manner of delivery here is just fascinating as he speaks most of his lines in a particularly calm, and unassuming voice. Gyllenhaal's vocal portrayal though is as a man who speaks so calmly to people because that's how a proper person speaks to one another person, right? It's the perfect sort of voice for a nice young man, looking to make a name for himself, as we see in the scene right after that opening scene where Lou tries to sell the stolen material to a construction boss. Bloom first negotiates the price in such a bizarre way. Gyllenhaal brings such an energetic quality as though talking about the price of stolen goods is like a high powered business meeting. The best part is though when he's not really given a straight answer Lou instantly jumps to asking for a job, then when that does not look possible an internship is obviously a good enough start for him. Gyllenhaal carries such an enthusiasm that is oddly endearing in a way, because well he makes Lou a true go-getter someone who goes the extra distance. He means what he says, well as much as a man like Lou can mean something, and I love that Gyllenhaal never loses that timbre in his voice as Lou never stops trying to sell himself even though he clearly has no chance.
By chance Lou sees some nightcrawling in action, getting the news footage at night, so it's obviously time for Bloom to get a camera, first he has to steal a bicycle. Gyllenhaal is just marvelous in that even selling the bicycle to a pawn shop has to turn into some odd performance for Lou. Gyllenhaal again brings the pitchman as he shows a non-stop line of words, filled with a ridiculous amount of lies, as Gyllenhaal again realizes the way that Bloom is just constantly pitching as though it is his innate reaction to anything. Gyllenhaal in a way presents Lou Bloom as truly a great capitalist as he's always striving for his personal best, and knows that to get forward in his life he's going to have to work for it. Bloom seems to find his ideal place in the world when he starts filming himself, and due lack of certain personal restrictions gets angles that no one else would dare try to get. He quickly strikes up a working relationship with a local producer Nina Romina (Rene Russo), who likes his daring new footage. The overemphasis of everything that Gyllenhaal brings is genius though as again he seeks to make an impression, as Gyllenhaal still brings such an earnestness as Lou lists all the random things he has learned, from the internet, to Nina to show he is man who only wishes to evolve using information.
Lou can't do his nightcrawling alone though and has to hire someone to handle the GPS so he interviews a potential assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed). Gyllenhaal adjusts his performance so brilliantly as Lou does his interview. Well rather than being the hopeful up and comer himself he's now the boss as he asks about Rick's credentials for the job. Gyllenhaal now becomes almost like a time share salesman as he espouses the potential advancement and excitement of the job opportunity that is presenting itself to Rick. Gyllenhaal really does sell it though as something to be interested in and even though he's never not a little off, Gyllenhaal makes it convincing that Rick would accept the job. Of course this is a bit problematic since when you get right down to it Lou is a bit of sociopath, and he is at a different frame of mind than the normal person, because he's got a little problem with empathy. One of my favorite depictions of this by Gyllenhaal is in the interview between Lou and Rick. Rick laughs about something, and Gyllenhaal is amazing as he takes a bit long to laugh along with it. Gyllenhaal portrays the sociopath thought process, as he basically has to first recognize that the fellow human is laughing, therefore something's funny, so he better laugh himself.
You know though Lou Bloom might seem a bit off-putting if you only meet him briefly, but if you really get to know him that's where the magic happens. This is the case for Lou and his relationship with Nina. After Lou only grows in success Lou insists that they have a relationship outside of work, which Gyllenhaal plays as the most impersonal of ways to ask someone out, although it's obviously the only way that would be natural for Lou Bloom. Their meal scene together is an outstanding bit of creepiness by Gyllenhaal as he calmly implies that they should have sex because they both share the same schedules, therefore it makes sense. Gyllenhaal some how makes this madness seem so honest, and that is the most stunning bit about his performance. Of course all of Gyllenhaal work has this darkly comic streak because of the juxtaposition of the sheer hopefulness of the man that some how goes hand in hand with his sociopathy. One of my favorite moments of his performance, and I'll admit it there are quite a few of those with this performance, is as Lou calms the situation with Nina by explaining friendship by quoting Robert Louis Stevenson "A Friend is a gift you give yourself". That could be a Disney quote frankly but out of Gyllenhaal it is off-putting in the best sort of way.
But hey maybe everything Lou expresses is not a predetermined emotion he has devised to match any particular situation, Gyllenhaal sometimes reveals the truth about Lou which obviously has to be quite a gentle soul right? Well not quite. In the scene where another nightcrawler tries to get Lou to work for him, and keeps insisting, Lou basically says he's holding back the urge to yell in the man's face to say no, and in the intensity of Gyllenhaal's reserve he shows that it is indeed the truth. Forget about the reserve though in one instance where there is a lull in business, and Gyllenhaal is frightening as he reveals a bit of what is going on in Lou's mind as he screams into a mirror. When he tells Rick late in the film that maybe it's not that he can't connect to people, but rather it is that he hates them all it is very eerier since Gyllenhaal suggest that is probably the case. Rick actually gets to know this as their relationship deepens, particularly when Rick shows hesitations at a pivotal moment. Gyllenhaal is absurdly chilling as he twists his gentle tones to a very dark territory as he puts it bluntly, almost like he's telling him general job instructions, that he will have to hurt Rick very badly if Rick does not perform as he asks.
Jake Gyllenhaal above all gives an illuminating depiction of a man living the American dream. I mean there are a few setbacks. I mean Rick gets killed by accident as they follow around a high speed police chase. Which by the way is another stroke of genius scene by Gyllenhaal as his face projects that of an empathy, not a real one, but you could interpret it as such even though at the same time he coldly admonishes Rick for being too ambitious. Also he does face some scrutiny from the local police force, where again Gyllenhaal is pitch black yet so oddly delightful as he has Lou choke up little when talking about Rick's death because that's what a grieving boss does. For the most part though Lou lives the dream. His product only becomes more valued and more valuable, his company only grows in size and stature, and he even gets to have sex with Nina (where I assume he does some freaky things since in one negotiation session he clearly was not happy with her refusal to do certain things, which I think I'd rather not know). Lou Bloom gets it all in the end and what a terrifying ride it was. Jake Gyllenhaal never side steps the unsavory qualities, not at all, but you can't help but be compelled to watch this man succeed. This whole performance is one huge risk by Gyllenhaal but what a payoff. This is a flawless and endlessly fascinating piece of work by Jake Gyllenhaal as he realizes the one of a kind character Lou Bloom in all of his twisted glory.