Nightcrawler is a gripping thriller to watch on Netflix
A man with a camera hides in the bushes outside a lush home in Granada Hills. A horrible triple homicide has just been committed here. He waits for the attackers to escape before sneaking up behind them. Scanning the house with his camera, he stops at a dying man, lying in a pool of his own blood as he gasps slightly for breath. But this man is not here to help. He’s there to film and make a quick buck off the carnage.
In Somnambulist, Dan Gilroy’s neo-noir thriller now on Netflix, that man is Louis “Lou” Bloom, the protagonist played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Bloom is an ambitious, fast-talking con man who tells falsely motivational talking points about entrepreneurial courage and anecdotal statistics like a robot whose rough knowledge of human speech comes from a self-help book by Tony Robbins. After watching an independent film crew film the scene of a car accident, Lou is inspired to become a freelancer himself, driving late at night in Los Angeles to record violent crimes and accidents and sell the footage to local news stations.
After selling his first recording (a resurrected bloodied man) to Nina Romina (Rene Russo), morning news director for a local television station, Lou hangs on to him with every word. He is eager to learn and even more eager to please. Nina points out that she is interested in crime, but not everything criminality. “We find that our viewers are more interested in urban crime that seeps into the suburbs,” she says. “What that means is a victim, or victims, preferably well off and white, injured at the hands of the poor or a minority.” But above all, what Nina wants – and what Lou needs to succeed – are incidents of graphic violence that will shock her station’s audience, play on their fears, and get their full attention. “The best and clearest way I can tell you Lou, to capture the spirit of what we broadcast, is to think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”
As the plot unfolds, we see Lou thrive on his new career path, amassing a collection of fiery car crashes, gruesome murders, and other seedy clips that he proudly tags and categorizes on his laptop at home. The film makes it abundantly clear that Lou’s success as a would-be “nightcrawler” is not in spite of his sociopathic personality, but rather because of it. He feeds on death and tragedy like a scavenger buzzard, roaming the dark, winding roads of Los Angeles in his red Dodge Challenger, looking for his latest prey. There’s no low he won’t stoop to achieve his own goals, whether it’s aggressively coercing Nina into sleeping with him, belittling his exhausted assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) or orchestrating a competitor’s near-fatal car crash and filming his mutilated body on a stretcher. When Rick protests, telling him not to film the body because he’s “one of them”, Lou retorts, “Not anymore, Rick. We’re professionals. He’s a sellout. For Lou, every smile is a show of teeth, every compliment is a veiled threat.
It would be wrong to characterize Somnambulist like a story of one man’s descent into depravity and horror because in truth it was never such a big downfall for Lou to begin with. If anything, Somnambulist is both a gripping dark thriller, with beautiful Los Angeles cinematography and an electrifying nighttime car chase finale, and a scathing indictment of the pernicious impact of contemporary news media in shaping untold stories. not to inform or edify, but rather to exploit and dehumanize their subjects. It’s a powerful film that never moralizes its audience, but instead forces them to think about how a system that incentivizes someone like Lou could have existed in the first place.