Written and Directed by Dan Gilroy.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed.
A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.
“I have a saying; if you’re seeing me then you’re probably having the worst day of your life”
How do you know you are really good at something until you’ve tried it or at least been given the chance? Louis Bloom (a bug-eyed Jake Gyllenhaal) is asking that very same question, a young man in search of some kind of job, some purpose. We’re introduced to him trying to force his way into employment at a scrap yard by selling stolen metal, negotiating like a business man and trying to manufacture a position which isn’t available. “We don’t hire thieves” he’s bluntly told after polite conversation doesn’t work. The theft of the goods doesn’t strike Louis as an issue just as long as he’s skilled enough to have gotten them in the first place.
By sheer happenstance Louis soon finds himself as a ‘stringer’, a freelance cameraman who speeds all over the city of Los Angeles to snatch footage of what might be of interest to TV news editors and get paid a few hundred dollars in the process. The worse the crime, the better the pay. The richer and whiter the victim, the more value the story has. A mugging of a black teen in Compton? No interest. The mugging of a white woman in suburbia, now that’s a story and Louis is of the right (or perhaps wrong) mindset to hunt the crime down armed with a camera and police scanner. At first Louis is beaten to every one of the juicy stories by a rival crew but his determination to make it as something or someone soon pays off; what makes Nighcrawler so utterly compelling is the exploration of such a sociopath who would make this his living.
Louis is, after all, undeniably a sociopath but fits right in with the world of TV news and instant media coverage. As the audience we wonder how anyone could spend their nights crawling the city to find the worst possible crimes and accidents with the explicit hope there will be a body to film or bereaved family member to interview; we also wonder why news shows would think we want to see it, yet the reality is people do tune in and if you’re not watching Channel 6 then the person in charge at Channel 6 is doing a bad job. People’s jobs are on the line and Louis offers a service which very few can offer, and he becomes damn good at it.
I was reminded of Martin Scorsese’s 1982 film The King of Comedy throughout the film and in a way Nightcrawler is the modern equivalent or natural evolution of where Rupert Pupkin (the Robert De Niro character) was headed. Both Rupert and Louis show sociopathic tendencies and both men just want a shot at making it to the big time; both men also break the law in attempts to get what they want but unlike Rupert’s kidnapping of a famous TV star, Louis is clever enough to know that he can make the news rather than just show it. This reveal is the most sinister and darkly satirical part of the film but it makes Louis an almost priceless resource.
As Louis Jake Gyllenhaal is remarkable, showing the signs of an actor who has shaken off any notion that he’s just a pretty face and ready to cement his place as one of the very best talents of his generation. Along with the equally sensational Enemy, the year belongs to Gyllenhaal as far as I’m concerned. Rene Russo is equally as terrific as the news editor who forms a quid pro quo relationship with Louis, getting off on each other’s need for delivering the very worst images to millions of TV sets every day. Russo’s presence is a very welcome return to the screen for an actress who hasn’t made a good film for over a decade despite being one of the most dependable female talents to emerge in the past twenty years.
It’s often a cliché to say ‘the city is a character’ but in Nightcrawler, like in Michael Mann’s Collateral, Los Angeles and its suburbs is essential to the way in which the characters behave and where every freeway, intersection and winding valley road can be the difference between getting or losing footage, or sometimes even beating the police to a 911 call. In one of the film’s many standout sequences, Louis is indeed the first to arrive at a triple shooting and takes minutes of footage before the police arrive. The sequence is then perfectly paired off with a scene where we are shown the footage being debated and discussed on its ethical and journalistic grounds and what can and cannot be shown. This insight into the behind-the-scenes of a live news broadcast is as chilling as it is brilliant.
Dan Gilroy’s debut is arguably perfect and one of the most impressive first films I’ve ever seen, and I say this without hyperbole. I’ve never seen a film which takes on this subject nor have I seldom seen one which both satirises multiple facets of modern life without ever preaching or giving a moral lesson. It effortlessly fuses the darkest of humour with a disturbingly all-too-real look at a man willing to stop at nothing to make a success of himself. It poses moral questions of its characters which, were they able to answer, they could not and would not deny. It’s a film which takes apart entrepreneurial America where everyone has something to sell and where negotiation is key and business-speak bleeds into dialogue in attempts to fool one person or another into selling, buying or yielding power. What makes Gilroy’s screenplay work so well is that everyone is doing it, where power is never easily gained but always shifting depending on what misery the night will bring and who will get there first.
Watch the trailer here.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Rohan Morbey – follow me on Twitter.
You can listen to the Flickering Myth Podcast review of Nightcrawler using the player below: