Tweetable Takeaway: Ultimately, Nightcrawler is a film that entertains on myriad levels.
By: Wil Loper, Contributor
NIGHTCRAWLER stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a lean, mean, blood-soaked crime-scene filming machine. His name is Louis Bloom, and he’s the most deplorable protagonist this side of Frank Underwood, and you just can’t take his eyes off him to see what despicable act he performs next.
The movie might have played Louis Bloom as a character who is morally conflicted about finding fresh car accidents and crime scenes and altering them to get better footage, but instead plays him completely devoid of empathy. Lou is the kind of person who perfectly engineers every interaction for the maximum personal benefit. We see in the very first scenes Lou breaking through a fence and re-selling stolen metal. There is no ambiguity as to which which direction this greasy-haired man’s moral compass points. A confrontation with a security guard further establishes there is little Lou is not willing to do either above or below the law to get what he wants.
The fun starts when Lou pulls over to rubberneck a car accident, and sees Joe Loder (always dependable Bill Paxton) run past with a camera to record he carnage and subsequently sell to a TV station. Lou sees an opportunity for better cash than what he’s been making selling manhole covers. He trades a stolen bike for a camera, and the game is on.
Lou is inexperienced, but determined as hell. He’s also not held back by any sense of decency, which makes up for his lack of technical expertise. At his first crime scene, he strides past a fellow nightcrawler to get up and close to a man shot and bleeding on a stretcher. He’s pushed back very soon after, but the graphic up close nature of his footage gets it sold to a TV station headed by news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo). The motto of the footage they’re looking for is if it bleeds, it leads. The bloodier, the bigger the audience. We can scoff in horror at the blatant requests of Russo’s character as she lays out exactly what footage works best, but we can only admit how right she really is. If there weren’t a voracious market for this material, there would be no reason for it to exist in the first place. And exist it most certainly does.
The plot ratchets up the tension with each subsequent accident and crime scene, as well Lou’s own relationships. The movie would be entertaining in its own right if Lou’s biggest vice were taping crime scenes he manipulates. But the movie becomes even more interesting when Lou manipulates the people around him. Lou has no problem leveraging his power to force Nina Romina into a relationship with him, or to keep his assistant working for him. It’s all a dark, seedy game of chess with Lou, and he’s eight moves ahead of everyone else, the police included. Two detectives keeping an eye on Lou make a few stern-faced appearances, and while I appreciate the movie granting them intelligence that a lesser script might have forgone, I don’t quite buy that he continues to legally get away with shooting his footage and airing it on television without major repercussions sooner.
The movie features the most tense car chase in years. After filming a home invasion in which Lou witness the murderers’ faces and license plate as they drive off, he tracks them down and orchestrates a scene to record. The scene culminates in the police giving chase to the criminals, with Lou and his assistant in hot pursuit, recording all the way. Most car chases in movies tend to have drivers with superhuman abilities to pull off fantastic traffic maneuvers. In ‘Nightcrawler’ there is no predictability that we safely reside in with other movies. Lou and his assistant are only trying to keep up with the crazy driving of the person leading the chase. It’s one thing to be the driver of a chase and send pursuing cars flying in all directions; it’s an entirely different and delightful experience to be the car following the mayhem and dodging the flipped cars.
Ultimately Nightcrawler is a film that entertains on myriad levels. Gyllenhaal’s turns in a magnetic performance that in a lesser actor’s hands might have turned Lou into a character we simply hate; instead he’s a character we love to hate. None of Gyllenhaal’s boyish good nature is found here, in its place is a gaunt face with a jawline so sharp-edged it could chop a block of cheese in half if you threw it at his face. The social commentary on the public’s thirst for bloody, graphic footage is timely and incisive. TV audiences tune in to gobble up grisly crime scenes, and as a parallel we in the audience gobble up Lou’s seedy behavior, taking joy in his behavior though we all know how morally wrong it is. The movie’s mood and atmosphere is suitably dark. Nearly the entire movie takes place in the dark of the night where the only people awake seem to be criminals, emergency responders, and the nightcrawlers who come out to feast on their remains. I give it 4.5 Jake Gyllenhaal jawlines out of 5.
Score: 4.5 out of 5