Synopsis: Nightcrawler is a pulse-pounding thriller set in the nocturnal underbelly of contemporary Los Angeles. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate for work who discovers the high-speed world of L.A. crime. Finding a group of freelance camera crews who film crashes, fires, murder and other mayhem, Lou muscles into the cut-throat, dangerous realm of nightcrawling – where each police siren wail equals a possible windfall and victims are converted into dollars. Aided by Nina (Rene Russo), a veteran of the blood-sport that is local TV news, Lou blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story.
eyelights: Jake Gyllenhaal. its commentary on media responsibility.
eyesores: its slight moral ambiguity.
“Think of our news cast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”
‘Nightcrawler’ is a 2013 motion picture about Louis Bloom, a desperate young man scrounging to make a living. One day, he gets the idea of becoming a freelance cameraman, and proceeds to learn how to shoot news footage for sale to the highest bidder. In no time flat, his mercenary ways net him some prize material and a growing fortune.
But at what cost?
The motion picture, which was written and directed by Dan Gilroy, in his feature film debut, explores not just its sociopathic protagonist’s behaviour but also the culture that allows him to thrive. It’s a critical look at news media ethics and its ratings-driven philosophy that’s not at all dissimilar to ‘Network‘ – without the thick layers of satire.
Our first glance at Lou (played by Jake Gyllenhaal with his usual ferocity) sees him stealing chain-link fence, manhole covers, …etc., for money. He’s an eager hustler, trying to talk people into making deals, but he isn’t entirely convincing; people don’t believe or trust him. He’s feral, sort of like an ethereal coyote with haunted eyes.
The picture never explores Lou’s background, but it’s clear that he’s an extremely lonely individual: he lives alone, has no friends, and coerces himself into a relationship with his boss for lack of any ability to attract a partner. One imagines that he must have been abandoned at a young age and/or ostracized, maybe even bullied, in school.
He’s learned to survive on his own, but his desperation has made him bold, slimy, opportunistic, exploitative, and unscrupulous. This is a guy who takes advantage of the people around him for his own benefit, who tampers with crime scene evidence to improve his footage, who holds back critical evidence for him to use at a later date.
He’s not exactly an ethical person. He may even be amoral.
The problem is that ‘Nightcrawler’ presents its protagonist in a way such that the ends seem to justify the means: whatever ill he does in his pursuits appear to be offset by the success that he is met with. There is no self-reflection, no discussion about the issues and no consequence to his actions aside from that which is felt by those around him.
What’s dangerous about this film is that viewers who don’t watch it as a character study may see in it a blueprint, something to emulate. It’s just another exhibit in a long-standing, perhaps eternal, debate about the effect of media on people, but the difference here is that it portrays a realistic scenario – Lou is not Chucky, Freddie, Jason or Michael.
Stringers like Lou exist – look at all the paparazzi that make the news. And it would be tempting for anyone capable enough but with limited education to try to get out of their financial straits by doing exactly like him. Look at all the people who try to take shortcuts to fame and fortune – they are perfect examples of people who could be Lou.
Since the picture doesn’t explore Lou’s psyche and back history, he becomes a much more relatable figure. While the intention probably was to make him alien, less human, in reality this surface-level approach makes him less flawed, and anyone idealizing him is less likely to question his actions or motives and use this for personal reflection.
Still, ‘Nightcrawler’ remains a compelling motion picture: it illustrates the unhealthy social conditions that can allow sociopathic behaviour to thrive and gradually foster a psychopath. In some ways it made me think of ‘American Psycho‘ – except that it’s eerier, due to its more realistic approach. One can’t possibly look a Lou’s actions and laugh.
After all, he is a true product of our times.
Date of viewing: May 8, 2016