The Los Angeles that “Nightcrawler” presents is a world away from the glitz and glam of Hollywood, inhabited by sleazy, seedy TV execs and even sleazier citizens. Yet the film takes a firm look at how one thing can easily become another and how the sensationalisation of the media brings the worst out in people.
Jake Gyllenhaal stars as freelance news cameraman Lou Bloom in a dark and satirical look at the world of TV news. As the opening credits show the LA sights and sounds, it’s abundantly clear that this film is not flashy, rather the opposite, making excellent use of the location to examine a culture that is increasingly powerful and scary.
When Lou first shows up, he’s using wire cutters to steal rolls of chain link fence and selling it on at a scrapyard. Gyllenhaal immediately exudes charisma as a character who is all too capable at selling, convincing and persuading his way to meet his own ends. A master manipulator who, unfortunately, is in rather dire straits financially. “I’m a hard worker”, says Lou. “I set high goals. My motto is ‘if you want to win the lottery you have to make the money to buy a ticket’. So what do you say? I could start tomorrow or even why not tonight?” He is told by the scrapyard owner bluntly “No.” So his charm doesn’t work on everyone but by the end of the movie, like all great characters his confidence and proficiency both as freelance journalist and as speaker have blossomed to become both entrancing and terrifying.
Nightcrawler demonstrates an understanding of the TV news industry that shows with so much gusto and arrogance that it’s hard to find fault with even if it is purely fictional. Lou isn’t pulled into anything but rather pulls himself into this world which is cultivates a DIY attitude towards moral boundaries and he is ever so eager to apply his existing base of internet-learned social convention to learn more about the dark underbelly of the city.
Lou knows what he needs and doesn’t need to achieve something and he’s not afraid to use people. It’s refreshing to see an anti-hero that is clever but more importantly who is understandable and isn’t a cliche. It’s easy to make comparisons to Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman in American Psycho given that the two expertly manipulate situations to their own advantage and have no qualms about throwing anyone who gets in the way under the bus, but Bloom is more than that because he’s not an extremist or a sociopath for that matter. Neither is he a murderer.
These kinds of characters are so appealing because of the ease by which they achieve their goals but at what cost. Gyllenhaal has relatively little regard for the well-being of the strangers he films, dragging dead bodies from cars to create the perfect camera shot, holding back from calling the police from the scene of a triple murder because of the advantage of being there before the cops.
In fact the rest of the cast are all great, if not quite as grotesque and slimy as Gyllenhaal. Bill Paxton shows up early on as rival cameraman Joe Loder casually strolling out into a car wreck, shouting instructions to his assistant about getting a better shot of an impact wound. Soon after he’s introduced to the TV channel’s news producer Nina (Rene Russo) who’s slowly becomes wrapped around Bloom’s little finger as he pushes and pulls her in every which way he desires, as does Riz Ahmed, who is fantastic as Bloom’s hapless, homeless assistant Rick.
Nightcrawler paints a picture of a city and a society with a desire for sensationalism. Like the best films it uses Bloom’s story as example by which the audience can judge the bigger message. Society, according to Nightcrawler, wants to be shocked and the media are more than willing to serve it to them in all it’s gory detail on the 6am morning news. Or perhaps the relationship is the other way around and the media decides what is or isn’t in the public interest. It’s a film about making people happy, whether it’s Lou Bloom and his sense of self-importance or the TV execs craving the next set of ratings. Hopefully the phrase “If it bleeds, it leads” doesn’t have too much truth to it but if it does then perhaps Nightcrawler asks “are you okay with that?”
Nightcrawler is dark, terrifying and fantastically acted with quite possibly a career best from Jake Gyllenhaal and thought provoking to boot.