MOVIE REVIEW: Nightcrawler
"NIGHTCRAWLER"-- 4 STARS
Everyone has their limit, as a person and as a moviegoer, when it comes to turn ons and turn offs on the movie screen. Likes and dislikes are just a softer form of kink and fetish when you think about it. Each of has both a spoken and unspoken level of interest and favoritism among certain genres, topics, and subject matter. The ones we speak of are the easy ones that define us when people as what we like and dislike. They likely predictably match our outward personalities. Some are braver with their admissions of guilty pleasures than others.
On the other hand, the really interesting half of these interests is the unspoken ones. These are the private and more closeted likes and dislikes we don't outwardly portray. There are turn ons, turn offs, and then there are the things you can't turn away from. This is where personal weirdness takes over and there is a simple test for it. When you see a bad car accident, do you keep driving or do you slow down and look?
As the old saying goes, we can't look away from a trainwreck, right? As observant humans, we're all voyeurs. It's just to what extent and what tolerance. If you knuckle down, keep driving, and eschew from the brutality, that says something about you. If you slow down to rubber neck and look for a second, that also says something about you. If you stop and help, that says another thing about you. If you completely stop to watch even more carnage, well, the sentences add up a little more. Your response speaks to your level of tolerance and innate curiosity. Your response shows your unspoken like or dislike.
"Nightcrawler" is the cinematic equivalent of not being able to look away from an impending accident. This is the movie on that test that stops and watches for even more peril. In a movie like this, our own voyeurism and curiosity takes over and we find ourselves enraptured in what we see, even if it is wrong and against our usual likes, dislikes, morals, or beliefs.
Movies that do that and still entertain are rare. The last one that graced this website with that ability was "The Wolf of Wall Street" last year. Everything about that movie from a moral and judgment sense was wrong, but we all couldn't help but watch and keep watching. "Nightcrawler" has that same level of deplorable behavior and that same level of unfailing magnetism. We know it's wrong, but we can't help but be drawn in as the film progresses.
Academy Award nominee Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a Los Angelean nobody and introvert who lives alone and is currently unemployed. Self-educated by excessive television and the internet, Lou exudes a weird broken knowledge of random information that he packages as personal motivation for self-improvement. He’s oddly proper, but a man with zero moral compass. He will lie, cheat, and steal to get a leg up for himself.
Lou finds inspiration one night when he encounters a bad car accident and pulls over to see more. Zipping past him on the scene is a freelance videographer named Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) who is capturing the daring police rescue of a victim pinned inside of a burning car. Lou learns that Loder is one of many “nightcrawlers,” an offshoot of paparazzi really, that spend every night listening to police scanners, chasing ambulances, and filming incidents to sell to the local news agencies.
Giddy from the voyeuristic rush of that experience, Lou seeks the equipment and means to do the same and start his own business. He enlists the help of a desperate and pathetic homeless man named Rick (Riz Ahmed of “The Reluctant Fundamentalist”) to be his go-fer and intern and together they start trolling the L.A. streets for potential footage of accidents and crimes that unfold. When Lou catches a worthy piece of tape that documents urban crime creeping into the affluent suburbs, he makes his first sale to a struggling morning news director named Nina (a resurrected Rene Russo) and gains a steady business partner.
As the nights continue, both the risks and the paychecks go up and Lou becomes more and more sucked into this lifestyle. Lou gets obsessive to the point where you wonder if he himself is going to create the headlines and crime that Lou wants to shoot and Nina so desperately wants to buy as a ratings scoop. “Nightcrawler” plays and builds like a slow-burning thriller that teases the dark rabbit hole these immoral characters are teetering on the edge of. Like that metaphorical trainwreck that keeps coming up in comparison, the result is fascinating and impossible to turn away from.
What sells an ugly movie like “Nightcrawler” as entertainment is the outstanding lead performance from Jake Gyllenhaal. He dives head-on and over the edge into this dark and mysterious role. Oily, gaunt, focused, and downright creepy, you can tell the Louis Bloom character comes from the tree whose roots stretch deep to the likes of Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver,” Sy Parrish from “One Hour Photo,” and Norman Bates from “Psycho.” You have a seemingly unassuming character that boils inside with big ideas that lead to sociopathic tendencies, all hidden beneath a smiling and loquacious surface. Gyllenhaal owns it and gives Lou every quirk and thorn he can to push the envelope just enough to not create a parody instead. This is, by far and without question, the soon-to-be-34-year-old’s most compelling performance to date. He will be on Oscar’s short list for Best Actor and deservedly so.
In creating this unforgettable character, first-time writer-director Dan Gilroy (brother to Tony Gilroy, the screenwriting steward of the Jason Bourne franchise, and husband to Rene Russo) has spun gold from his scripted page. These kinds of characters are frequently attempted, but rarely leap off the page this well. Gilroy couples that with an outstanding level of intimate world building that peels back the sunny facade and fictionally exposes this seedy and slimy side of both Los Angeles and the modern news media cycle. Like Bloom himself, “Nightcrawler” has its own big ideas and big statements that boil under the surface.
As was stated before, depending on your level of turn on, turn off, and moral principles, you may or may not be built to agree with and like a film like “Nightcrawler.” That’s fine if you don’t. However, there is a very good chance you will be impressed by and absorbed into its landscape and twisted story. “Nightcrawler” is uniquely devoid of cheap scares or other similar horror movie tropes. As dirty as it is, this film is far from that level of trash. This is sleek, polished, targeted, and engaging material that will grab your nerves and your attention. The draw of this film, no matter how ugly it appears, is strong. It is rightly earning its 94% and Certified Fresh status on Rotten Tomatoes. Go see for yourself.
LESSON #1: FEAR IS "FALSE EVIDENCE APPEARING REAL"—This first lesson stems from a little mantra Lou uses to hype up Rick when he wrestles with the unsavory nature of this job. The mantra and the lesson speak to the mindset of the Louis character to embark and document the experiences the horrific and tragic misfortunes of others without batting an eye of sympathy, empathy, worry, or care. Lou feels no trepidation or fear in what he is graphically documenting. The moment never gets to him and the camera lens is his barrier from assuming any responsibility. All Lou sees is opportunity and dollar signs. This mindset is almost predatory-like in that regard.
LESSON #2: IF IT BLEEDS, IT LEADS—“Nightcrawler” is thickly driven by the range of morality and censorship limits today’s news media seem fit to test, push, and shatter compared to days of “Network.” Whether we like it or not, violence sells more than feel-good stories. Bad news outnumbers good news because of that “can’t look away” voyeuristic curiosity that all of us are instinctually programmed to react with. Thanks to being one-upped by the likes of TMZ and other less-scrupulous news sources and being pushed to deliver breaking news before things settle down, more graphic content and disturbing stories are filling our normal public news cycles than ever before. Even worse, so much of what is reported is manufactured and overproduced from what it really is, solely to increase interest and ratings. “Nightcrawler” plays on that trend and operates in that environment.
LESSON #3: THE TRUE PRICE OF ANYTHING IS WHAT SOMEONE IS WILLING TO PAY—This is another golden quote speaking to the immorality within “Nightcrawler.” Money talks and bulls—t walks. Souls are sold. If you wanted to dive deeper into the depravity that is creeping into Lesson #2, you could make the parallel that the characters in “Nightcrawler” are warped extensions of the American Dream of wealth and notoriety. You have the very driven Lou who will go to great lengths to push his agenda, demand larger credit, and make a name for himself. He does so with the nature of this lesson. He knows Nina needs edgy content like Lou’s to climb out of the bottom of the ratings and set her station apart. He knows that he could virtually name his own price and manipulate this business relationship. Everybody’s got a price and everybody’s going to pay, which means, somewhere, we can all hear “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase laughing. If you don't, then your childhood sucked, but that's a whole other tangent.