Somnambulist tells the story of Louis Bloom, a thief and crook desperate for work. Everything changes when he discovers the world of night owls; crime reporters in LA who record and sell their footage of crimes (accidents, aftermath of violent crimes) to local TV stations. Bloom will do anything to advance in this world where he sees the best opportunity to become someone. This is the plot of Somnambulist, the movie that could be the best of Jake Gyllenhaal’s career, and here’s why:
Jake Gyllenhaal, the villain
Jake Gyllenhaal has been playing since childhood and became famous for his role in Donnie Darko. Since then, he has become a movie star, playing all sorts of roles: a romantic lead, a cowboy in love, a soldier, someone who wanted to find the zodiac killer, a prince of Persia and a villain in a comedy franchise, to name a few. But over the years it has become clear that the roles where Gyllenhaal has had the most fun and is at his best are the ones where he can be unhinged and dark, going against everyone’s expectations of him. . That’s why the role of Louis Bloom was perfect for him, and it was his best performance ever. He’s still a smart, handsome, white man who thinks he should get whatever he wants. But this time, he uses those powers for evil. He wants a comfortable life and doesn’t care how he will get there. There is no morality involved, only results. Bloom will do anything to survive and move on, as he lacks empathy, even if it means morally compromising himself or using violence.
Gyllenhaal went all-in for the role. He decided to lose 20 pounds, rode his bike every day on set, and continued to train to keep his lean presence, as he saw the character as a hungry coyote, always looking for the next bite. His character never blinks and it seems like all he eats is self-help books and corporate language. Gyllenhaal creates a unique character; one that starts out as an antihero that you root for, but as the movie continues and his character doesn’t stop chasing, you get the truth: Gyllenhaal plays an absolute capitalist villain, and he loves every bit of it.
About the character, Gilroy told Indiewire“The character of Lou is like a nocturnal animal that comes down from the hills at night to feed. Jake would call him a coyote. It is in a way the symbolic animal; that’s why he lost all the weight because the coyotes are always hungry.
Impeccable screenplay and direction by Dan Gilroy
Dan Gilroy had been a screenwriter for over twenty years (Freejack, two for the moneyand The Bourne Legacy, to name a few) when he directed this film. It was his first, but you wouldn’t notice it because his direction is precise. It’s a bit like Michael Mann (in a good way), shooting digital in Los Angeles and showing someone good at their job, even if it means crossing certain limits. The script is excellent writing and together with Gyllenhaal they created this unique character. But he is not alone; the entire cast is amazing, and Gilroy had a great eye for selecting them.
Riz Ahmed plays Rick, Bloom’s assistant in one of his first Hollywood roles, and leaves his mark on the film, showing the contrast between the sociopath Bloom and someone down on his luck like Rick. It’s still one of Ahmed’s best performances, and it has been noticed by the rest of the industry. Rene Russo and the late Bill Paxton also have prominent roles: she is Nina, the local news director who buys Bloom’s footage and somehow becomes sexually intertwined with him. The scene where Bloom offers her is much more about business and power than sex or (gasp!) love. Russo is doing very well with the character and makes us miss her, as she hasn’t done much work lately. Paxton’s character, Joe, is the man who introduces Bloom to the world of night owls, as he is one himself. It could be the worst decision ever, because not only does it create a competitor, but one that will try to starve everyone in their field, with all the necessary tactics.
The other big idea Gilroy had was to shoot in LA, but not in your typical Los Angeles; there are no Hollywood Hills or Venice Hills. Gilroy told The Hollywood Reporter“The real story is the urban crime creeping into the suburbs, trying to instill in suburbanites the idea that there is this nefarious presence that is about to creep over their hedges,” said explained Gilroy. “I think it’s very destructive, and I think it creates an atmosphere of fear that negatively impacts the way we all live.”
The director kept this film a family affair, his wife, Rene Russo, playing a role, his brother, John Gilroy, was the editor, and his other brother Tony Gilroy, a screenwriter and director himself, was a producer who had great ideas for the movie, like the line where Rick points out that following the killers in Bloom’s red car might not be the best idea. It seems that, since then, Gyllenhaal has also become part of the family, as he and Dan Gilroy collaborated again on Velvet circular saw.
The American dream, perverse
Lou Bloom looks like the perfect image of the American dream: he comes from nothing, and he becomes a businessman. The problem is how it gets there. Yes, he starts out as a poor man, just surviving, who only wants a chance. But once he sees the opportunity, he doesn’t pass it up. The film could be a success story, but at what cost? Is it still the American dream if you need to humiliate, provoke violence or sow despair around you? There is no empathy in Bloom. He is a sociopath who seeks to better himself at any cost necessary. He could be a direct descendant of both Gordon Gekko and Patrick Bateman, mixing greed and violence (more psychological than physical) at the highest point. But that’s the cruelty of capitalism, pure individualism, where to have money in your pocket, you have to take it from someone else.
Both Gilroy and Gyllenhaal were drawn to the story and the character of Louis Bloom because of all these traits, creating a neo-noir thriller where the Los Angeles night is full of terrors, death and, for someone like Bloom, of opportunities. Maybe that’s why it’s Gyllenhaal’s best film; it is his Taxi drivera film where a character with his own moral code changes the way society sees him, for the better, or in this case, for the worse.