(dir. Dan Gilroy)
“If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.”
Now is as good a time to ask as any: how much do you trust the news to give you the truth? For many, television news informs the basis on rational thought, of how we see the world on a local and global scale. It identifies who we should mourn, who we should celebrate, and who we should fear. So what happens when you peel back those smiling TV faces to find not flesh but hundreds of insects crawling over each other, biting, devouring what was once there in a bloody frenzy? These are the questions Dan Gilroy’s film poses. Nightcrawler is the story of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a jobless pariah who steps into the world of nightcrawling—filming footage of the aftermaths of brutal killings and car crashes for the local news. Aided by a young homeless man, Rick (Riz Ahmed), and a news director, Nina (Rene Russo), who will do anything to hold onto her job, Bloom starts down a road toward becoming a self-made business man. It’s an American dream achieved through fast cars, fast talking, and blood, a whole lot of it.
Jake Gyllenhaal has been on quite the hot streak of performances over the last few years, and his portrayal of Lou Bloom is one of his most impressive roles. Bloom is characterized by a lean, hungry look and odd facial tics (we only see him blink a couple of times in the entire film), but coupled with the physical distinctions, is an unsettling quality that’s hard to pin down. When he says he doesn’t like people, you believe him, and while we may hear people utter this statement from time to time, it has never been more stomach churning than it is here. We’re given next to no information about Bloom’s past. It seems that we as the audience almost stumble upon him the same way he stumbles into nightcrawling. Gyllenhaal has quite a way of crafting complex characters whose history we know very little about. Bloom is eerily polite, inquisitive, and his whole model for running a business seems to be gathered from internet pitch pages. He’s also carries a sense of disenfranchisement, a result of a job market and economy gone under. Thus, Bloom becomes a sociopathic mixture of ideals and flaws, America gone wrong in an exaggerated (if only slightly so) continuation of the mentality that has created so many reality stars and internet sensations who'll do anything for a buck. Gyllenhaal’s performance is supported by strong turns from Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, and the always wonderful Bill Paxton who offer barely restrained parallels to Bloom. Nightcrawler is led by characters whose morals are easy to condemn, and even laugh at, but there’s a disturbing sense that they are not so far removed from people sitting just a couple rows behind you.
Dan Gilroy, who makes his directorial debut with this film, crafts a stylish looking picture that contrasts dull colored daytime scenes, with striking night scenes. For film buffs interested in camera angles and lighting, the film plays a lot with both in terms of Gilroy’s filmmaking and Bloom’s nightcrawling. L.A. is no stranger to having its seedier side exposed, but in this film it seems even less glamourous than usual, unrecognizable at times. The screenplay, which Gilroy also wrote, is darkly humorous, sometimes to a guilt inducing degree because of its honesty. Gilroy confronts the local news’ penchant for instigating a fear of minorities, the focus on urban crime entering the suburbs, and the news anchors’ inane commentary and quick shifts between tragedy and fluff pieces (we’ve all seen a grisly murder or apartment fire being used a lead-in for a cute dog or baby of the day video). Yes, the depiction of the news in the film is a fictional exaggeration, but similar exploitation occurs in real life and Nightcrawler is nothing if not a reminder of that fact.
Nightcrawler is battery-acid soaked satire, driven by strong performances and strong visuals. There are certain elements of horror in the film, but unlike horror movies, Nightcrawler is funny and chilling without being fun. It has a very real sense of weight that isn’t unshakeable. Nightcrawler doesn’t care about people because it operates under the notion that news doesn't care about people either. But we can laugh at parts of Nightcrawler, go home to watch the news and let the insects hatch beneath our faces, and feel queasy about it later, because what else can we do?