Friday, October 31, 2014

Movie Review: Nightcrawler

Directed by: Dan Gilroy.
Written by: Dan Gilroy.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal (Louis Bloom), Rene Russo (Nina Romina), Riz Ahmed (Rick), Bill Paxton (Joe Loder), Michael Hyatt (Detective Fronteiri), Price Carson (Detective Lieberman), Rick Chambers (KWLA Anchor Ben Waterman), Holly Hannula (KWLA Anchor Lisa Mays).

Nightcrawler has already been compared to a lot of previous films – Network, Taxi Driver, The King of Comedy, Collateral, Drive, Peeping Tom and many others. Writer/director Dan Gilroy has obviously been inspired by many of these films, but the one I couldn’t help but think of after watching the film was a strange – the documentary The Corporation, which applied the standard diagnosis of psychopaths to the actions of corporations, and found that many of them would be psychopaths. In America, where corporations are now legally treated like people, I couldn’t help but think of the main character in Nightcrawler – Louis Bloom – as the reverse - a person who behaves like a corporation. Bloom is clearly a psychopath – none of the pain or misery he films throughout the movie has any sort of effect on him or his emotions whatsoever. He basically exists solely to make money – and he will do whatever he needs to do to get that, no matter what ethical lines he has to cross. He treats everything as a business transaction. He is constantly spouting corporate speak – inspirational quotes that we normally apply to people who are successful – who we admire for working so hard to make something of themselves. But when taken to the extremes that Bloom takes them in Nightcrawler, it becomes deeply disturbing. The movie is many things – but that is what sticks with me.

 When we first meet Bloom, he’s breaking into a construction site to steal cooper wire, chain link fence and manhole covers to sell for a little bit of money. Cruising the streets of L.A. at night, he comes across a bloody car accident –and meets Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), filming it. He is a so-called Nightcrawler – a freelance cameraman who gets footage – the bloodier, the better – and sells it to the highest bidder. Bloom figures he can do the same thing – so he gets a cheap camera, a police scanner and heads out into the night to start filming. He isn’t particularly good at filming at first – but he has an advantage over the rest of the nightcrawler – he has no scruples, and gets in closer than the rest of them – and if that means he gets in the way of the police, firemen or paramedics doing their job, so be it – he needs the footage. He establishes a relationship with Nina Romina (Rene Russo) – an aging news director on the graveyard shift at the lowest rated channel in L.A. – who wants the bloodiest footage she can get to put on the morning show. She senses in him a kindred spirit – and so they are, at first, until Bloom starts pushing her even further than she wants.

The movie follows Bloom as he gradually ratchets up his actions to get the best footage – first just getting in closer, then moving things around – including bodies – around at scenes, before the police get there, to make for a better shot. In a mesmerizing, and disturbing sequence, he enters a house where a triple murder just happened – and films it all before the police get there, and then flees – keeping the identity of the culprits to himself – so he can use them later to stage even more bloodshed.

This is the best performance Gyllenhaal has given to date – and the fact that he continues to top himself each time out is impressive. He is charmingly amoral at first – and just gets worse from there. But he’s also likable – and somewhat funny. He’s like Rupert Pupkin, from The Kind of Comedy, in a man who won’t take no for an answer – and also doesn’t quite understand why no one else sees the world as he does. Not that he cares that much about other people. But he’s also like Patrick Bateman, from American Psycho, in that there is a charming surface, but the deeper you go, the less there seems like anything there but the surface. The movie is a pitch black comedy, and it gives Gyllenhaal some great laugh lines. We root for Bloom, in spite of ourselves, and then the movie leaves us to figure out what that means. Gyllenhaal is matched by Rene Russo (and it’s nice to see her in a movie again) – as the two become the central couple in the movie, and the sexual tension between them – despite their age difference – is palpable, even if it is really more of a business transaction for both of them.

Nightcrawler is a lot of things – a modern L.A. set noir, with brilliant cinematography by Robert Elswit, that makes the city look even darker, and creepier, than Drive or Collateral. A satire of the media, who sell fear to their audience even though crime is actually going down. A satire on our current culture of over documentation, where everything is immediately available for public consumption, even if it shouldn’t be. A character study of a psychopath. And it’s all wrapped up in a supremely entertaining, disturbing, funny, violent package. That it pulls this all off is what makes it one of the year’s best so far.

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