' ' Cinema Romantico: Nightcrawler

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


Though writer/director Dan Gilroy's "Nightcrawler" is a supremely vicious satire with hardly an ounce of altruism to be found, it comes equipped with moments of genuine auteurist awe, scenes and shots so rapturous they seem to be scored by James Newton Howard with a celestial harp. That's troubling, however, because these scenes and shots often demonstrate the absolute barrel's bottom of human heartlessness. Still, they unconsciously pull at our emotional drawstrings because even if "Nightcrawler" functions as a blood-drawing farce, like "Network" for the CNN era, and even if it acts as an examination of a beaming, synergizing sociopath, it is, above all, about how in this day and age we view existence through the prism of the screen. And that screen allows for untold amounts of manipulation behind the scenes that is employed to leave us looking up at it in alternate wonder and terror.

Jake Gyllenhaal is the perspicuously named Lou Bloom, wandering an illicit L.A. by night like a depraved Ulysses, and the first physical detail you might notice is his hair, lengthy in the back and coated with a hair product that ostentatiously evokes the slime he is. Exclusively Internet learned, and creepily talking like a middle manager who devoutly believes in Ryan Bingham's "What's In Your Backpack?" speech, he is a prototypical American looking for a way, any way, to strike it rich. He's also, you know, off his rocker, to use technical lingo, and when he stumbles into the disreputable industry of filming real-life tragedy to pawn the footage for a hefty fee, he becomes a thriving if sordid nightcrawling entrepreneur.

He acquires an employee, Rick (Riz Ahmed), homeless, desperate, willing to be strung along to certain doom. He acquires a nightcrawling rival, Loder, played by Bill Paxton in a piece of pitch-perfect casting that finds the formidable character actor with his own greasy hair, swilling cheap coffee and talking Paxton-y trash. He acquires an ally, Nina, the "vampire shift" televison producer who pays big bucks for lurid images to lead the morning newscasts she eternally wants written in blood, and is played by a magnetic Rene Russo as batshit without being ballistic. There's is strictly a business partnership, even when it comes to sex, which is alluded to but never seen, and business, as they say, booms.

As he must, Lou keeps pushing his luck, and consequently "Nightcrawler" veers toward and eventually spills over into outright Thriller territory involving a home invasion gone wrong, drugs, shootouts, and, oh yes, a car chase. Except, exactly! It's turned into a thriller because it's a thriller that Lou himself is making, heinously manipulating those around him to bend real life to bend to the story in his warped mind while offering life coach-esque monologues about the necessity of properly "framing" it all. And when he plants himself and poor Rick in the midst of that obligatory third-act car chase, he continues to film, he continues looking through that screen, no matter the danger. Reality and the reality seen through his screen (and that we see through our screen) becomes indistinguishable. He needs his end. So does the film.

Granted, the film might have done better to end four, five minutes earlier with a freeze-frame and a climactic kiss (you'll know it when you see it - trust me), but it also thankfully does not abandon its seriously effed up principles. It stays on point. It leaves you feeling scuzzy and fearing the legitimacy of anything you see. Then you go home or get on the bus and read a review of it on a portable screen.


Anonymous said...

Great review! Hoping to catch this one while it's still in theaters. Loved the end line.

Derek Armstrong said...

A disappointment for me. (The movie, not your review.) Certain aspects appealed to me, of course, but overall I felt like this movie came along 15 years too late. It's trying to make a late 1990s hot-button issue seem topical in 2014, which it just doesn't. Works best as a metaphor for capitalist striving, rather than a specific look at "if it bleeds it leads" journalism.