“Nightcrawler” is a movie about the universal nature of human desperation, and how we tap into other’s desperations to suit our own whims. Despite the extraneous, bone-chilling lengths Jake Gylenhaal’s character goes through to obtain prestige and pizazz in the film, he isn’t doing it for solely economic means. His empty, bug-eyed state would earn him a lucrative position in any sort of pyramid scheme, or even a creepy but still courteous greeter at an upscale mall department store. Instead, he’s desperate to not be seen as desperate, to be successful and formidable enough that he should never be forced to perform the heinous crimes he’s so familiar with, even though he probably wouldn’t object to them either.
Gylenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a living embodiment of the word ambition, a man who’s entire ethos is crafted from the back cover of a discount self-help book. His personal interests are relatively few to none, save for maybe watering the five dollar plant in his five hundred dollar studio. But Bloom becomes intrigued by the world of local news stringers, even starting up his own pop up journo shop in efforts to join their graveyard shift ranks.
Acting as his detached mentor is Rene Russo’s Nina Romina, a news director desperate for good ratings in any way, shape or form, but preferably bloody. The two form a mutually dependent relationship, each an unhappy vessel to serve the other’s personal and professional whims. Had Romina’s station not been the last on the market, she would have held off even speaking to Bloom but her fear of losing her job and her status pushed her to the brink.
And then there’s Rick, a man of no aspiration or ambition, seemingly unimportant enough in this world that he wasn’t even given his own last name (although his incredible actor Riz Ahmed definitely has a last name.) All Rick wants to do is earn enough money to survive, whether it be working a prestigious job or the late-night shift at a fast food joint. Bloom taps recruits Rick as an intern/assistant for his burgeoning operation, and it’s only through his knowing of Bloom does Rick become more assertive and forceful in his demands. He doesn’t want money, he wants more money, he doesn’t want a job, he wants a better job.
This constant clash of desperation and ambition, between the characters and within themselves, pushes “Nightcrawler” to a dramatic breaking point. Its a blitzkrieg of thrills and raw, unbridled emotion. It’s not so much a condemnation of the local news industry, as the circumstances for how any of these characters meet or fall dependent on one another could be applied to business or tech or any other industry. But, it is a taut portrayal of how easy these systems can be corrupted by ambitious people with desperate means.