Nightcrawler takes us on a journey into the seedy world of professional 'nightcrawlers'. No, they're not superheroes. Nightcrawlers are independent camera crews who scour the streets looking for mayhem and carnage, and the bloodier they find, the better. The completely amoral, but absolutely determined Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is adamant that he's going to 'make it big' somehow... Louis doesn't know how exactly, just yet, but when Louis fortuitously stumbles upon some "stringers" ie; amateur cameramen filming a random car accident, inspiration hits Louis like a thunderbolt from the skies. Louis has found his calling in life.
Louis steals a bunch of stuff and pawns it off for a cheap video recorder and a radio scanner so he can listen in for accidents and then try to beat all the help there, ie, the police, the ambulances, and his competition. Due to his fearless approach to video record dangerous, and probably illegal situations, Louis finds that the news director of a local TV station Nina Romina (Rene Russo) is interested in purchasing his footage before anyone else. Nina also tells Louis to focus on finding brutal crimes in affluent neighborhoods. People like seeing bad shit happen to rich people, apparently.
When the TV station's ratings pick up significantly after some of Louis' illegally acquired footage goes on the air, Louis knows that he has Nina in his pocket, and as casually as he'd order dinner, he lays out his demands. Louis wants Nina to have sex with him, and enjoy it, he wants more money, and more exposure as a legitimate cameraman. It's a Faustian pact that Nina reluctantly accepts for the sake of her increasingly precarious career. However Nina quickly realizes how deranged Louis is and how much she's at his mercy. Despite being his boss, it simply doesn't matter anymore. The balance of power has shifted. Louis now holds the ratings which allows Nina to keep her job and Louis knows that "If it bleeds, it leads."
On the one hand, Nightcrawler is an indictment on the sensationalist and sordid practices of TV news stations choosing to deliberately warp stories and televise only the most shocking and manipulative 'news stories' at the expense of the facts. On the other hand, Nightcrawler is a character study of a pure psychopath. Totally remorseless, maniacal, and utterly unflinching in his desire to succeed. No matter what the cost. The most disturbing thing about Nightcrawler is how successful the marriage proves to be between Louis and Nina. They're a match made in... hell. Jake provides the ghastly and grotesque images, and in turn Nina beams them out into the world and attracts new viewers en masse. The facts clearly give way for media sensationalism, and it works remarkably well.
There's undoubtedly a lot of interesting societal, ethical and moral questions that are asked, and explored, in Nightcrawler, but I think the first time director Dan Gilroy struggled with maintaining a sense of momentum and focus throughout the film. Nightcrawler never flowed as well as it could have and a lot of intriguing elements seemed to be brushed aside and underdeveloped. To know that these sort of prowlers and opportunists exist out there is truly a chilling thought. They're not serial killers, but they're demented enough to be unnerving at the least. People who are waiting for some tragedy to strike, hopefully to a rich family, so they can stick a video camera in their face and record you when you're at your most weak and vulnerable, at best. That's an unsettling thought.
Nightcrawler is a great movie that's elevated by Jake Gyllenaal's powerhouse performance of an unsettling sociopath who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, but I think it could have been a more effective movie in the hands of a more experienced director. The ending felt like more of a whimper than a bang to me, it was lackluster. When Nightcrawler should have been at its most impactful and suspenseful, it felt mundane and a little bit flat. Although the wry and self aware humor did land well. I was just left wanting more of a resolution, but it was disturbing enough, I'll give it that. Nightcrawler did manage to make me feel ethically dirty after watching it though. Kudos to Jake Gyllenhaal on a phenomenal performance.
Written by - The Sentry - 04/12/2014