Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler Movie ReviewOpen Road Films
R for violence including graphic images, and for language.
Running time: 117 minutes.
Three stars out of four.

“Nightcrawler” is a great Los Angeles film and a great media film and a great noir, powered by a supremely creepy performance from Jake Gyllenhaal in what is perhaps the best work of his eclectic career. But fundamentally, it’s also a film about the power of showmanship, and the danger of believing your own hype.

Ambition is supposed to be a good thing, especially in this country. Pulling yourself up from your bootstraps, building something out of nothing, making a name for yourself — it’s all part of the American dream. In the assured hands of Dan Gilroy, a longtime screenwriter (“The Fall,” “The Bourne Legacy”) making his directing debut, that dream becomes a chilling nightmare. (Gilroy’s brother, Tony, the director of “Michael Clayton” and “The Bourne Legacy,” serves as producer here while Dan’s twin, John Gilroy, is the editor.)

Gyllenhaal’s character, Lou Bloom, enjoys great financial success and dominance at the top of his chosen field, working as a freelance videographer who sells exclusive (and usually graphic) footage to an L.A. television station. Crashes and crime scenes are his bread and butter. He is driven. He is innovative. He is happy. He is also a monster — a fiend who preys on people at their weakest and worst moments. What’s fascinating about Gilroy’s approach to the character is that he doesn’t judge him. He lets Lou do his thing and lets us gawk at the awesome lengths to which he’ll go without an ounce of remorse or shame. You’ve gotta hand it to Lou: He’s really good at his job.

It would be easy to say that “Nightcrawler” is a snapshot of How We Live Now. But truthfully, it isn’t saying anything about the relationship between the media and society — and the toxic and symbiotic voyeurism that fuels it — that hadn’t been said already, decades earlier, in eerily prescient films from “Ace in the Hole” (1951) to “Network” (1976) to “Broadcast News” (1987). The notion of “if it bleeds, it leads” isn’t exactly shocking. Gilroy is, however, making his points with great verve and vivid style. Veteran cinematographer Robert Elswit, Paul Thomas Anderson’s frequent collaborator who won an Oscar for “There Will Be Blood,” shoots Los Angeles in the wee hours with darkly gleaming menace, which is crucial to creating the film’s mounting sense of suspense.

Nighttime is prime time for Lou from the very beginning. When we first see him, he’s lurking in the darkness, stealing scrap metal and chunks of chain-link fence to sell them for whatever paltry cash he can get. It’s an obvious comparison, but Lou is a vampire prowling around the City of Angels; the often-hunky Gyllenhaal embodies the part with a startling physicality with his lanky frame, pasty facial features and sleazy demeanor. But when Lou opens his mouth, what comes pouring out is a steady stream of vapid self-help platitudes and cliched business jargon. The words may seem benign and the patter may sound even-tempered, but the intensely earnest way he actually believes what he’s saying is what makes his shpiel so unsettling.

During one of his midnight missions, he stumbles upon a gnarly car accident on the side of the freeway. When he pulls over to check it out, he crosses paths with Joe Loder (a perfectly abrasive Bill Paxton), an enterprising freelance photographer who pulls up in his van and dashes out with his video camera to chronicle the wreckage in hopes of selling it to the highest bidder. You can practically see the light bulb go off over Lou’s head.

The gaffes he makes when he first tries to break into the game provide some of the few laughs in “Nightcrawler” — the technical glitches and breaches of protocol with annoyed police officers and firefighters. But Lou is frighteningly smart and a quick learner, and in no time he’s caught the attention of longtime local news producer Nina Romina (a tough-as-nails Rene Russo, Gilroy’s wife), whose on-air glory days are far behind her.

The two need each other, to the point where Lou ups the stakes by enlisting a right-hand man to help him scramble across town to even more locations, the ever-present police scanner buzzing with coded clues as to where they should go. Riz Ahmed does a lot with a rather understated role, but most importantly, he serves as the film’s lone sympathetic figure.

As Nina’s ratings increase, so do Lou’s profits as well as his twisted sense of self, inspiring him to tweak and even stage crime scenes. To say that he plays God would suggest that he undergoes some sort of internal ethical debate. He does not; rather, he acts quickly and decisively in constructing his narrative until he himself becomes the story. You can’t exactly endorse his tactics, but you also can’t turn your eyes away for fear of missing what comes next. He’s a terrible human being, but he creates must-see TV.

4 Comments on “Nightcrawler

  1.  by  Jonathan W. Fink

    With Nightcrawler, the Gilroy brothers (Tony, Dan, and John) are quickly becoming the Baldwins of production, screen writing, and editing. In so doing, they continue their apparent goal to become the Sydney Lumet of our generation. Nightcrawler is a post modern homage to Lumet’s classic Network. More than that, Nightcrawler is an artistic achievement in its own right: It says something important about who we are, where we come from, and where we are going as a society.

    Like Network, Nightcrawler is about the television new industry. While satirically discusses the transition from the old guard and journalistic integrity to commercialism, Nightcrawler satirically dissects the the complete commercialization of TV news.

    Now, instead of cops filming themselves arresting people, stringers record the most violent acts of urban crime and send it to the local news station for a price, before the cops even show up. The local news stations pay the price to build their ratings during sweeps. Of course, the price the stations pay increases with the grittiness of the footage shot by these stringers- Nightcrawlers.

    While the story is satire, we know its message is not far from the truth. How many times do we see footage of bloody crime scenes even before the police arrive on the local news? Too many for my tastes. The stations’ rational for these actions is the oft stated cliché, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

    Nightcrawler focuses on the activities of a (vaguely) psychopathic stringer- brilliantly acted by Jake Gyllenhaal-, his ad hoc company, and his relation with an aging local news diva producer perfectly played by Rene Russo. The voice of reason is portrayed by Kevin Rahm (previously best known for his work as Ted Chaough of Mad Men).

    Each of these characters parallels the central characters in Network. Gyllenhaal is like Peter Finch, Russo is a hybrid of the Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, and Ned Beatty characters, and Rahm plays the William Holden part of the straight man. Despite minor recriminations regarding the footage they show, even Rahm goes along for the ride, all for the sacred dollar.

    I’m not going to reveal details of the plot. The film is simultaneously revolting, amusing, and enthralling. Shot in a grainy format at night in rain, with every character looking sullen, pale, withdrawn, and barely alive, it brings the Lumet style to the digital age.

    Some may write off the Gilroys’ effort as a hyperbolic stunt, but I truly believe that Nightcrawler is more than that. It depicts the worst elements of commercialism in our society, the now even low standards for behavior we give up to become rich, and our willingness to get there despite the price. Nightcrawler concludes that we will sell anything, no matter how tawdry, not matter what the price, to ourselves and others.

    Nightcrawler is more than an homage. It is a true artistic achievement in its own right: Nightcrawler says something important about who we are, where we have come from, and where we are going as a society. See it.

  2.  by  Susu

    Nightcrawler seems like a satire to modern television news about how they choose their leads or often seek for more ratings by entertaining their viewers rather than aim straightly to the facts. But there is a much interesting story beneath here and that is the main character, Louis Bloom. The guy that easily manipulates people with his sinister tricks of persuasion. Everything else may just be the natural world of crime and accidents, but in the eyes of this character, the experience is made far stranger and oddly fascinating. This provides a compellingly menacing and provoking piece of commentary which results to such engrossing film.

    What the plot mostly does is to fully absorb the viewers into the character of Bloom by studying his sociopathic behavior and the words coming out from his mouth. He is a charming young man with a dark intention hidden behind his grins. He pushes the limits of the law and his own safety, only to accomplish on what he must do in the job, even if it risks many people’s lives. The actions of this antihero is ought to feel terrifying on how it affects to both the business he’s working on and the society he is watching. The media’s side however is more of a picture of cynicism on how they broadcast the scariest stories of the city, giving the people fear so they could earn more viewers out of the concern. It just breaks down on how the evil of their success is disguised as their own ethics.

    The filmmaking perfectly captures their night’s work. You couldn’t clearly see the scenario they shoot unless you watch them on a video footage. The violence and peril they witness are shown without any hint of sympathy, since they only use them for the news show. The horror of these gritty scenes once again belongs to the nightcrawler. Jake Gyllenhaal is one of the biggest highlights here. His character obviously has the personality of a psychotic villain; he is mostly bluffing, and by the dashing enthusiasm he shows to the people around him, you probably may not know when his inner total madness will burst out from his frightening eyeballs, and that provides more tension than you expect. This is one of the Gyllenhaal performances that will be remembered for his career.

    Out of common sense, this story may lead its main character to a moral about how much he is taking this job too far, probably destroying his humanity. But no, this guy is relentless, almost inhumane, and his style in fact helps his career grow bigger, which turns out we are actually rooting for a villain. And that probably pictures to some oppressive ambitious beings out there behind some system. This is where things go in the end, bringing an outcome to a social satire. You can spot a lot of relevance even when some of the situations get a little out of hand. Nightcrawler is something else than a sentiment, what we must focus here is Lou Bloom: a new, possibly iconic, movie vigilante, except the only skin he is purposely saving is himself and his career.

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