Year – 2014
Country – USA
Production Studio – Bold Films, Sierra /Affinity
Writer – Dan Gilroy
Director – Dan Gilroy
Cast – Jake Gyllenhaal (Louis Bloom), Rene Russo (Nina Romina), Bill Paxton (Joe Loder), Riz Ahmed (Rick)
Rating – 4/5
I would like to preface this by saying that, as I understand it, Jake Gyllenhaal is an actor the majority of people either love or hate. Reading the words ‘Jake Gyllenhaal’ can cause some to snarl and then immediately lose interest.
I’m a fan of Gyllenhaal, and so I wasn’t put off watching Nightcrawler. I think he is a committed actor who has played an impressive variety of roles over the course of his career – which is just as well, as the character Louis Bloom requires some serious commitment.
Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is, at its centre, an exploration of the vulgar and the voyeuristic in the everyday practice of American TV news. He introduces us to the people who get paid to supply the images of pain, suffering, and even death, which are so highly in demand.
Gyllenhaal’s character, Bloom, is an unusual man looking for employment. He begins the film as a thief attempting to sell his loot, as well as wrangle a job from his buyer. He then makes the seemingly random decision to pull over and walk up to the site of a car crash to get a better look. As he sees the twisted metal and the men pulling a women from near death, what peaks his interest is the cameraman filming the carnage. Immediately, Bloom has found the career he has been searching for, and so the next day he makes the decision to buy a video camera and a police scanner so he can chase accident and crime across LA, and sell the tragic footage for your morning entertainment.
The ideas behind Nightcrawler from writer and director, Dan Gilroy are are attention-grabbing from start to finish. The bizarre glimpse into the world of American TV news and the competition to provide the most gore-infested, vulnerable and devastating show reels of real-life crime is constantly uncomfortable, often feeling like some kind of science fiction, but we all know it isn’t.
Like more and more films these days, Nightcrawler asks you as an audience member:
“Why are you watching?”
For me, the most uncomfortable moments were watching Russo’s character, Nina as she negotiates with her crew at the TV studio. Russo’s performance is subtle, and the script points out on occasion that she is an aging woman who bounces across TV channels, contract-to-contract and perhaps isn’t the most successful in her role. As Bloom brings her more incredible footage, her morals fade away with the promise of better ratings for her show, though Gilroy leaves you feeling those morals were once important to her.
The desensitisation of each of us is not a new concept, and it’s unlikely to ever get old, but Nightcrawler does a great job of exploring this while making the audience feel dirty, but also feeling like the points it makes are legitimate.
What is impressive is Gilroy’s restraint. Nightcrawler could easily have been another Drive (2011). It could have been a flash and bang of incredible style, raising the point that our hunger for these images is crazed, but opting to throw more at the audience visually and leaving the film as a whirlwind of intensity. Gilroy’s choice, however, is to peek into Bloom’s lunacy while ensuring his actions appear real and his interactions with the TV studio are also authentic. It was clearly important to him that the audience knew that it may take a slightly deranged person to get these images, but we still want them.
Obviously, Gyllenhaal’s performance is central to Nightcrawler. He is in every scene and he commands almost every scene, and the facets of his character are a lot to swallow. You aren’t told much about him, and there’s little insight into his back story. When watching it for the first time, it feels a bit sloppy, but given time to digest the story my theory is that Bloom is the kid raised on TV and the internet. His personality is a melting pot of things he’s seen, read or watched, and so he behaves in any situation like he is scripted; simply regurgitating the best examples he has for that moment.
It’s also worth noting that Bloom often runs to the scene of a tragedy which is already attended by cameras manned by the everyday man simply working the job he has. The job doesn’t require a lunatic, but the film prescribes one.
Opposite him is Russo’s Nina, who for me is the most interesting character in the film. Nina is the desperate studio producer who works the ‘vampire shift’ on the news show with the lowest ratings in LA. She’s an attractive, older woman who is presented with a strange man who could possibly save her show. There’s plenty of movies about while, American men like Bloom, but I can’t help wishing Gilroy had made Nina the subject of the story, with Bloom as the real punch in the gut for audience members who have merrily spent a morning or two indulging in the darkest, most sadistic news stories imaginable.
The next time you see the horrific reports on the news or images pasted across the internet, Nightcrawler might make you consider the person who knew they would be paid for those images, and the businesses who paid for them. The real tragedy though, is not the Louis Blooms of the world who consider their business prospects, but the people who don’t really care at all.
Gilroy’s vision is likely to stay with you, and is a true achievement.