There's something uniquely appealing about a film with a disturbed protagonist. A great villain is one thing, but going on a journey with a lead character whose goals and methods of achieving them are less than savoury is a rare treat.
The fantastic new Jake Gyllenhaal film Nightcrawler, which opens in Kiwi cinemas next week, is one such treat. Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a troubled Los Angelino who is introduced stealing fencing wire in the middle of the night which he then sells for scrap. After violently dealing to the security guard who hassles him, that is.
Several nights later, Bloom happens upon a car accident on the freeway, and encounters some of the videographers who sell footage of such incidents. It's a job perfectly suited to Bloom, whose sociopathic tendencies correlate nicely with the notion of filming other people's pain and suffering, then profiting from it.
Gyllenhaal's performance in Nightcrawler is a thing of hypnotic deadpan wonder. The pep talks he gives his assistant Rick (played by The Relunctant Fundamentalist's Riz Ahmed) are hilariously messed-up. There is no winking in Gyllenhaal's performance, but somehow he manages to give the audience permission to laugh at his peculiar way of being.
To celebrate Nightcrawler's bountiful contribution to the canon of disturbed protagonists who skulk about at night, I am going to cite what I consider to be cinema's Top Five Nocturnal Weirdos.
5. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in The Dark Knight (2008)
This orphaned rich kid may be helping people when he goes out at night, but we shouldn't overlook the fact that his behaviour indicates he must be incredibly disturbed. I mean, bats? C'mon! See also: Rainn Wilson in Super (2010).
4. Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) in The Machinist (2004)
Trevor hasn't slept in over a year, and God only knows what he's been getting up to in his evenings. When his lack of sleep contributes to a workplace accident, Trevor begins to doubt himself. He should start a support group with Fight Club's Tyler Durden. See also: Al Pacino in Insomnia (2002) and Sean Gullete in Pi (1998).
3. Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) in Death Wish (1974) and four sequels.
Cinema's angriest architect took to the streets with a gun after his wife (and later, his second wife, then his maid, then his stepdaughter, then his third wife, then his fourth favourite cousin, and so on) is murdered, wasting any street punks he encounters. Kind of like an avuncular Travis Bickle. See also: Jodie Foster in The Brave One (2007) and Kevin Bacon in Death Sentence (2007), which was based on a novel by Death Wish author Brian Garfield.
2. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) in American Psycho (2000)
Of the many crazy nocturnal creatures Bale has played, Patrick Bateman definitely has the nicest business card. Even though all his murderous shenanigans may just be in his head, Bateman infuses his bad after behaviour with a gleeful joy that is hard to resist. I'm not advocating murder. But you can't deny that Bateman does it with style. Bale apparently based his characterisation on Tom Cruise's talk show demeanour. See also: Anthony Perkins in Psycho (1960) and Tom Cruise in Collateral (2004).
1. Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) in Taxi Driver (1976).
Cinema's all-time greatest night owl set a new standard for messed-up after-dark behaviour. I guess driving a cab in 1970s New York'll do that to you. Also, Vietnam. For all Bickle's bizarre activities though, I think the most disturbing thing he does is take Cybill Shepherd to that weird euro porn movie on their first date. I don't think even Lou Bloom would do that. See also: Nicolas Cage in Bringing Out The Dead (1999), an underrated spiritual sequel to Taxi Driver also directed by. Martin Scorsese.
* Favourite nocturnal weirdos? Comment below!