Film Review: Nightcrawler

In 2012, Aaron Sorkin piloted a television program that educated, informed and entertained by nit-picking the issues of modern day television broadcasting, information distribution and most of all, societal perception. Luckily, I was able to stumble upon a clip of the opening monologue of the show via YouTube, which was recommendation by a friend. The monologue, delivered by Will McAvoy, played by the audacious Jeff Daniels, is single handedly, one of the greatest monologues in television history, describing the issues with contemporary American politics, government, its people and most of all, the media. Approaching its third (and final) season, The Newsroom has proved to be a champion of debunking the public’s predictive perspective of hyped up terror scares, exploitation news broadcasting and television, as well as ginned up controversy.

With Nightcrawler, writer/director Dan Gilroy feature film debut, the film delivers an almost complete counter-program to one of the best shows on television today, glorifying the exact same things The Newsroom is championing against. Yet, from the first dark scenes of trespassing to the final scenes of pure brutality and unimaginable corruption, Nightcrawler crawls up your skin and into our heads as one of the creepiest and feverishly uncomfortable films of 2014.

Nightcrawler begins like any nightmare would, at night. Basked in the sketchy noir lights of an almost unrecognizable Los Angeles, similar to Newton Thomas Sigel’s Los Angles in Refn’s Drive, the night city is consumed by insomniacs and blood-thrity reporters looking to make money and a name for themselves based on the misfortunes and tragedies of others.

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One of those inhabitants is Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a fast-talking, quick learning creepy night-dweller who takes most of his knowledge and facts from the internet and disposes of his verbal jargon to anyone who crosses his path for his own interests. We first meet the Lou as a petty thief who cuts fences and steals manholes to make his money and earn a living. Bloom is a sociopath, and although we don’t immediately connect with the character, never once asking the questions of how, why and for how long he has been living this life, we never really question him either.

After successfully trading his stolen possession to a local scrap metal owner, where he unsuccessfully bargains the terms of an employment position, Lou drives onto the barren freeway in his dilapidated car, stumbling across a car on fire. After pulling over and being mesmerized by the deadly ambers igniting on the hood on the destroyed vehicle, two news photographers crash the scenes with their nightly lit cameras and gear. Like we’ve seen before, Lou is no stranger to awkwardness, since he is as much an opportunist as he is a slimy insomniac, he offers his services to the ‘nightcrawler photographer’ Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). Rejected, Lou still feels that he has finally found his calling and with that, he steals an impressive racing bike on the Venice beach boardwalk in order to pay for a dodgy camcorder and cheap police scanner in order to begin his adventures as an amateurish nightcrawler.

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The film’s success can easily be accountable to its transformative star Jake Gyllenhaal, who lost over twenty pounds for the role by biking and running to set and reportedly spending up to eight hours a day at the gym. The actor, who has been nothing but superb in a recent string of stirring films from Prisoners, Enemy, End of Watch and Source Code, delivers one of his finest and easily most haunting performances to date. Complete with bulging eyes, an Adam’s apple and veins coursing the entirety of his body, Gyllenhaal proves that the simplest aesthetics are the scariest. Having no regard for human beings and enticing strangers with a jabber that is almost to quick to comprehend, Gyllenhaal’s dedication to the sketchy Bloom is seen both physically and emotionally, as well and felt cold-heartedly and abruptly by its audience.

Bloom strives off hard work as he proves, despite his better concern for the law, he is a hustler. Convincing himself as well as everyone around him his potential in an industry that strives off trespassing, seduction and lies, Bloom manipulates everyone for his own regard. Reciting over the same lines, whether it be to a new employee of his company during a job interview to a desperate and homeless Rick (Riz Ahmed), or convincing low-rating news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) of his potential of delivering graphic, unsavoury and somewhat illegal images for her morning broadcasts, Bloom believes that “If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket”, by any means possible. With-holding information to the police and pulling on the weaknesses of his prey, Bloom never thinks a second, making him one of the scariest, real people we never want to have the pleasure of meeting.

Nightcrawler is a sneaky film that asks a lot of questions. Gilroy, a seasoned writer whose previous works would never suggest the dark, disturbing and off-putting subject matter in the film, writes and directs Gyllenhaal up as the quintessential creeper stalker. At times viciously graphic and mostly almost senseless, Bloom’s manoeuvres throughout the film bring to question his regard of people and the morbid reality of people’s disconcert with human life against the will of success. Bloom is a forger of images, one that feeds off the consensus of the people. Bloom’s obsession with capturing images soaked in blood, guts and with the fleeting moments of a person’s life, brings him closer to his uncanny desire to distance himself from the thing he despises most, people.

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If Nightcrawler is a film about anything, its a film about people’s messed up vision of their American dream. Some of Gilroy’s most fascinating moments happen between Bloom and Romina in the newsroom, discussing the price of the grisley images of people’s lives, the leverage each on of them have on the other for their own success and the capacity and power networks have to misleading their public for the sake of ratings and profit. These are the eyes Gilroy wishes to expose; the eyes that capture these images, edit them, and delivers to us on the small little portal we call news television. Our only moral compasses come in the form of Bloom’s sidekick Rick (Ahmed), who questions his actions and calls out his wrongs, and Nina’s associate producer Frank Kruse (Kevin Rahm) who disapproves of the methods and subject of Lou’s footage. It’s no surprise that for the most part, Gilroy dismisses these characters quickly, as if the over-indulgence of superior corruption takes precedence over morality, dizzying our pallet with wrongs.

Nightcrawler is sensational as well as being a film about sensationalism. Sure, the audience never questions Lou’s brand new, bright Red SRT while is weaves in and out of crime scenes in between police cars like a non-incognito chameleon, nor does it become a film about exploitation while it examines it. Yet, what is as dismaying about the film than the images we see Bloom capture with his brightly light camera, is the potential to recognizing the difference between the idea of voyeurism and information. Bloom comes across many cases of human road-kill, shattered homes and tainted neighbourhoods, yet, his greatest concern never once, pulls on his consciousness to help people in need, rather record exactly whats happening instead. This fetishization of capturing the most graphic and disturbing images for the sake of money gain is Lou’s business, one he is good at, and one that allows him to excel both in his personal life, and business life–as well as Nina’s. The city Bloom captures is tainted and wrecks of the devilish intentions of its inhabitants. As Bloom drifts in and out of the houses of victims and suspects, we become as desensitized to the images shown on screen as we are in the real world, where our obsession for overly gory and graphic images increases with every generation and small child who has access to a smartphone or tablet. It becomes a moral dilemma and film in question for ourselves–when is enough, enough?

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Like any good and affecting nightmare, Nightcrawler successfully blends unconventional elements and weird components to keep us intrigued. Featuring anthem-like, unapologetically triumphant American sounds to blend somewhat perfectly with the feel of the film, composer James Newton Howard ups the pulse-pounding images on screen with apt tension and musical grace, livening the visceral experience of the film. The sounds that radiant are uncanny, yet, Bloom’s sleazy demeanour compliments the films barely vibrating lack-of-a-heartbeat.

Once the film concludes, we couldn’t image another person playing Bloom thanks to Gyllenhaal, who soulless, alienated performance rises his career and the expectations of his future roles greatly. Along with his partner Rick (Ahmed), the two unlikely candidates, who squander the night for murder and blood, showcases a side of a metropolitan urban city that wants us to keep sleeping at night.

Bloom is a creep. Lou Bloom is a weirdo. While Nightcrawler becomes a modern day hyperbole of the reality that every person faces once they switch on the news. Gyllenhaal undoubtedly outdoes himself again to deliver a tense and creepy story of the man who is willing to ignore human life in exchange for a cheque for a car payment.

Night Film Reviews: 8.5 Out of 10 Stars.

Does Nightcrawler creep under your skin? Does Jake Gyllenhaal deliver one of his finest? Or is the film a miscalculated program for the Halloween season? Oscar worthy or Razzy worthy? 

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