Los Angeles has been the subject of too many films to mention. Some moviegoers may often wonder if Hollywood's gaze ever looks beyond Southern California or the New York Metro area. But every once in a while a filmmaker shows an unexpected side of the City of Angeles. It's the LA you don't see on Bravo reality shows, or in the formulaic studio flicks where every family lives in a beautiful home in Pacific Palisades (aka ritzy Santa Monica) while thirtysomething jr. executives can somehow afford a apartments right off Venice beach. That's just one (exclusive) part of the city. Recent releases such as “Sound of My Voice,” “Drive,” “Beginners” and now “Nightcrawler” have provided a peak into a different perspective of Los Angeles. Dan Gilroy's new thriller is particularly intriguing because, according to star Jake Gyllenhaal, the main character was inspired by the landscape of the city itself.
The critically acclaimed thriller finds Gyllenhaal playing Lou Bloom, a man who, if you've lived in this town long enough, is frighteningly familiar. Is he 25 or 35? Could he even be older? Lou is a particular drifter who gets lost in LA. People talk about never seeing friends in Manhattan even if they live just blocks away. Throw in LA County's massive footprint and people you know who live just miles away can disappear for decades. In that context Lou is a character scheming his way through the city. He's looking for that “in,” that bite that will help him attain success and the financial freedom he appears to have never had. He finds that opening in a world where freelance videographers race across Los Angeles looking for dramatic footage to sell to one of the city's multitude of local TV news shows.* Lou becomes successful because of an almost predatory instinct to go for every story, even if there are numerous ethical and moral obstacles in his way.
*Is this a real scenario? There are only five official television news organizations covering the city even if they are on six stations. You go with while watching the film, but it's a bit hard for locals not to question Gilroy's premise once you really think about it.
Gyllenhaal sat down with HitFix earlier this month to talk about “Nightcrawler” and revealed that Gilroy's inspiration for Lou came from a particular animal that descends from the hills surrounding it.
“[Dan's] whole description of Lou was that he was really an animal and he talked about how he used the topography of Los Angeles [for the film],” Gyllenhaal says. “He wanted the mountain ranges to play a major part in the movie. There hadn't been many movies where the mountain ranges functioned as [the home from where the animals descended into the city at] night. Lou was an animal. We decided that he's a coyote and that was sort of how the whole look and feel and behavior of Lou came about.”
There have been a number of startling transformations by actors over the past year including Matthew McConaughey's Oscar winning work in “Dallas Buyers Club” and Eddie Redmayne's turn in “The Theory of Everything.” Gyllenhaal deserves just as much credit for what he did to make Lou, in effect, a coyote come to life. Dropping 20 pounds — which he clearly didn't need to lose — assisted the actor in delivering arguably the best performance of his career.
“Growing up in Southern California it's inevitable that you cross paths with coyotes a lot or you hear them,” Gyllenhaal says, reflecting on his inspiration for the character. “You hear them tearing up an animal or howling at night. They are this weird staple of LA, this, like, primal staple — sort of the primal underbelly of LA in a way, tearing things up. When you see them they are very skinny and their eyes are bulging out and that was my main study.”
Gilroy and Gyllenhaal have created a remarkable and singularly SoCal character in Lou Bloom. And they purposely want to keep much of the backstory they created for him, outside of the animal inspiration, a secret.
That being said, you can catch a few hints about where Lou came from by watching the complete interview at the top of this post. More importantly, take the time over your Halloween weekend to check out Gilroy's superb film. In a year where the Best Actor conversation could go 10 deep, it's disconcerting that Gyllenhaal's work might not make the top five. But a performance of this caliber, it's much more important that it's actually seen.
“Nightcrawler” opens nationwide on Friday.