Stringers are independent cameramen who make their living getting unique pictures or film and selling them to news outlets. Those who follow celebrities are called paparazzi. But there is a different breed, those who have police scanners in their cars and who race to car crashes and violent crime scenes, sometimes beating the police. In this movie the Los Angeles breed are called nightcrawlers. Their motto is “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a fast learner. Once he gets his scanner and camcorder, he is right there, recording the bloody faces of victims and bargaining with the late night shift of a news station for money. What helps is Lou is a total sociopath.
Nightcrawler turned out to be a lot more disturbing than I bargained for. I thought it would show Lou becoming more cynical as he learned the trade. Nope, he’s a sociopath from his very first scene. At one point, when he’s accused of not understanding people, he replies, “Maybe I just don’t like them.”
It’s hard to convey what Jake Gyllenhaal did in this movie. For one thing, he lost thirty pounds to play the part, and the makeup does not cover up the lines in his face. But for most of the movie we see him perceiving the world around him in this unsympathetic, unblinking stare. In other words, the subject of the movie happens to be what a stringer or nightcrawler does, but it really is a study in how a sociopath survives and thrives.
This is not a negative blog, so I really wish I could recommend this movie. What I can say is if you’re a real Gyllenhaal fan, or if you want to see how a master actor portrays an unsympathetic character in an unflinching way, see Nightcrawler. If you want a movie where you see how violence sucks the soul out of a man, or a somewhat dramatized view of a news stringer, you’ll get something different from what you expected.