“If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket” – a pearl of wisdom from entrepreneurial young man, Lou Bloom. Lou is someone willing to go the extra mile, the extra 100 miles, to do what it takes to succeed. So what happens when he decides to turn his sights to capturing video news footage? Nightcrawler is reviewed after the jump
When Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes across a car crash on the freeway, he is captivated not by the carnage, but by the video news crew who turns up to film the events. They’re known as ‘nightcrawlers’, and they sell video footage of events (crimes, accidents, disasters etc) to cable news channels who then use them in their “news” broadcasts. Bloom’s entrepreneurial instincts kick into overtime and he soon acquires a scanner, a camera and a desperate assistant (Riz Ahmed) who works for near to nothing due to his financial situation.
Bloom’s fast learning and lack of moral compass sees him quickly become adept at his new craft. He builds a relationship with cable news producer, Nina (Rene Russo), who encourages him to get the type of footage which hikes up the ratings – urban crime, usually violent, which is perpetrated in wealthy neighbourhoods. Lou is willing to do anything to get the money shots, and when we say anything, we mean it. Moving something to get a better shot is one thing, but when Lou begins manipulating events for the purpose of a better story, things get very scary very quickly.
Nightcrawler is a disturbing film and it’s not just due to the actions of its leading character. The thing that is really upsetting about this film is how on-point it is. We live in the age of now. Every event needs to be videoed, instagrammed, tweeted, broadcast and made available for our consumption as soon as possible. The lines between news and entertainment are increasingly blurred, particularly when it comes to breakfast variety shows (let’s not kid ourselves and call them news broadcasts). Video footage of crimes and accidents are played on repeat, with little care for what those affected might feel. I started to think more about where this footage comes from and how it is being spun in a way that garners ratings, rather than just being the “truth”. This film made me dirty about watching the “news” and I have honestly not watched a single minute of it since first seeing this film almost 3 months ago.
Nina is far scarier than Lou in many ways as she is behind sculpting the rhetoric, the message which goes out to viewers. The decisions she makes in the name of ratings (and saving her job) are beyond reproach. Scarily, we can see this type of fear-mongering and careful story selection playing out for real in the media. Crimes against white people get airtime, while other members of our society are marginalised and portrayed as perpetrators, and rarely ever as victims.
Lou’s character is an anti-hero of sorts, which is remarkable considering the unspeakably awful things he does in the name of success. He treats people like garbage, has no comprehension of humanity and is a manipulative psychopath, and yet we kind of want him to succeed. Maybe it’s his can-do attitude? He really does exude confidence in a way which is rather infectious. But perhaps it’s his awkward nature combined with his fast-taking, jargon-packed sales pitches which reel us in. Either way, it’s incredibly deft writing on the part of writer-director Dan Gilroy. Bloom could have been someone we loathed, but instead he’s someone we hate ourselves for rooting for.
Jake Gyllenhaal has been on a role with amazing performances recently in the likes of Enemy and Prisoners, but it is here in Nightcrawler that we really see the depths of his incredible talent. Gyllenhaal dropped a large amount of weight for this role, supposedly because he wanted to make himself look hungry, like a coyote. His bug eyes and gaunt face are unsettling and then he turns on his mega-watt grin and you really begin to feel your skin crawl. It’s an extraordinary performance in so many ways, especially in the way he delivers Lou’s lines. Fast-talking, awkward and yet with confidence. He speaks like a weird computer bot repeating, but not comprehending what he is saying. It’s really something.
Rene Russo’s performance is her best in more than a decade. Nina is a fierce character – strong, smart, sexual and extremely determined and Russo nails it. Her character is reminiscent of Faye Dunaway’s Diana, from the 1976 classic Network, a film which shares many characteristics with Nightcrawler. Riz Ahmed is also extremely good as Lou’s assistant – he is the audience in this film, the one who most closely represents the fear and disbelief that we are all feeling as we watch the events play out.
This is smart, sharp filmmaking from Dan Gilroy, it’s hard to believe that Nightcrawler is his directorial début. For me, this film is the complete package. I love how it looks, how it sounds and how it flows. The pacing is excellent and Gilroy really does know how to escalate the intensity. By the end of the film’s largest set piece, I thought I was going to burst. The audience broke into applause, such was our joint admiration and relief. The action pieces are frenetic, heart-pounding and yet they’re still completely comprehensible. LA filmed on digital at night is gorgeous and sinister – there’s nowhere quite like combination of freeways, urban sprawl, high-end hilltop mansions and encroaching desert.
Nightcrawler has gotten under my skin and into my psyche. I really haven’t been able to shake the way it has made me think about how I consume news. From its impeccable construction, to its razor-sharp writing and excellent performances, Nightcrawler is one of the best films of the year.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Dan Gilroy
Writer(s): Dan Gilroy
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed
Runtime: 117 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: November 27 2014