There’s a scene in Nightcrawler where Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) tells Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), “If it bleeds, it leads.” He’s referring to how stories involving violence tend to be considered the most newsworthy by modern media outlets. It’s a sad fact, but it’s also one that’s hard to deny. In Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, we’re given a glimpse into the life of a man who is drawn into filming these violent crimes across the city of Los Angeles. It’s certainly not a job for everyone and this certainly isn’t a movie for everyone; it defies convention at every turn and refuses to dish out resolutions or happy endings. You might not have even known about the existence of nightcrawlers, but this film will so firmly plant you into the underground world of these freelance journalists that you won’t be able to escape the horrors that you’re shown even if you want to.

We’re introduced to Louis Bloom stealing wire from a chain link fence. When a security guard approaches him, Bloom attacks the guard and steals his watch. Bloom doesn’t have a legitimate job and he doesn’t have much of anything going on in his life. As he’s driving down the street one night, he pulls over to watch several rescue workers attempt to pull a woman out of a burning vehicle. As he’s watching the event unfold, Joe Loder pulls up and begins filming everything. He tells Bloom that he’s a nightcrawler; he prowls around the city, looking for news to record and then sells it to a news network. Bloom is intrigued by the idea and he ends up purchasing a camera and a police scanner of his own. As he begins to film multiple crime scenes, he starts to develop a relationship with Nina (Rene Russo) a local news director. The role of a nightcrawler seems to be the position that Bloom has been looking for all his life and with a brand new young employee onboard (Riz Ahmed), he’s willing to do anything to get the latest story.

This is a very unique glimpse into a side of Los Angeles that most people will be entirely unfamiliar with. It’s absolutely interesting to watch these nightcrawlers do what they do best and it’s even more interesting to think about what exactly would draw them to a profession like this. Through these characters and this unique profession, Gilroy offers a biting critique on the state of modern news and journalism in general. Bloom has no journalistic training whatsoever, but the so-called professionals that he ends up selling his footage to seem to have no journalistic integrity left within them. The news station team seems more concerned with ratings and sensationalizing stories than delivering honest, objective reporting. Bloom quickly learns that the only stories that the media cares about involve rich white people and all other stories simply don’t attract as many viewers. It’s a sad reality, but it’s one that Gilroy does a great job of criticizing.

But even more interesting than the film’s satire of modern media is the character of Louis Bloom. When we first see Bloom, he’s committing a crime, so it should come as no surprise that he’s hardly a good guy. It’s made clear from the beginning that he lacks certain morals that most people have, but no one will be able to predict how low he’s willing to sink by the end of the film. Bloom is clearly a sociopath; not only do his interactions with people seem strange, he truly does not care about anybody but himself. He views people as objects and he’s willing to put people in danger if it will allow him to get ahead in the world. This is what makes the job of a nightcrawler so interesting to him; his job is to find people in horrible situations and just sit back and record. Most people would have reservations about filming a man who has just been shot while the paramedics attempt to resuscitate him, but not Bloom. We learn next to nothing about where he came from and at the onset of the film he had no job, no friends and no responsibilities to hold him back from being a nightcrawler. Once he discovers this profession, he commits to it 100 percent. He wants to achieve success and he absolutely doesn’t care how he gets there. Bloom is truly one of the most interesting and horrifying characters to come along in quite some time.

Even though Bloom’s character is fascinating on its own, a great performance was needed to really elevate things and Jake Gyllenhaal is more than up to the task. Gyllenhaal portrays Bloom as overly friendly, making nearly all his actions with other people uncomfortable. He’s usually got a smile on his face, but you get the sense that under this false sincerity is a ticking time bomb, just waiting to explode. He always seems to be right on the edge of true insanity and you feel like he could topple over at any moment. Gyllenhaal reportedly lost 20 pounds for the role and Bloom’s gaunt physique and long hair only add to his uncomfortable persona. There’s a scene in the film where Gyllenhaal screams into a mirror and this is the moment where Bloom transitions from being mostly bad to being truly evil. But Gyllenhaal isn’t the only great performance in the film; Rene Russo is also despicable as a cutthroat executive at a local news station. She’s lost several jobs and she certainly doesn’t want to lose this one, so she’s willing to set all morals aside and work with Bloom on the most interesting story possible. Still, Russo brings a tragedy to her character that prevents us from hating her. Perhaps Bloom’s manipulation of her also allows us to care more about her. There’s a great scene where Bloom takes Nina out on a date and essentially forces her hand into a sexual relationship. It’s a quiet scene and this allows Gyllenhaal and Russo to bring their acting chops to the dinner table. They make the scene feel vile and degrading.

The script by Gilroy also offers plenty of dark humor that may catch some viewers off guard. My screening featured very few laughs from the audience, even though I found this to be an incredibly funny film. Gyllenhaal’s character is so loathsome that you almost have to laugh at all of the horrible acts he’s willing to commit. All of these acts culminate in a fantastically directed final action sequence, one that continues to shock even after you think it could go no further. This certainly isn’t a film that needs action to keep viewers interested, but its finale definitely needed something special and this climactic sequence absolutely delivers. The score from James Newton Howard may occasionally feel out of place, but the cinematography from Robert Elswit brilliantly captures the fervor of the LA nightlife. It’s hard to believe that this is Gilroy’s directorial debut because his handling of tone, characters, pacing, themes and humor make him already feel like an established veteran. Nightcrawler certainly bleeds and, in comparison to other 2014 releases, it also leads.

Nightcrawler receives 4/4