Film Reviews

Nightcrawler Dan Gilroy

Rating - 7/10

Dan Gilroy's directorial debut Nightcrawler offers up its shell of a human being, the insatiable opportunist Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), as a symbol of the new social media-powered society that's unafraid to cross any moral boundary in order to sensationalize, exploit, and defile for personal profit.  In essence, the film draws a sociopathic portrait of Los Angeles' news crews who are perfectly willing to broadcast the most visceral images in the guise of sharing in a neighborly sense of compassion.  While there is a riveting truth to this sardonic vision of the news media and its affiliates who possess the tools to reprogram their viewers to crave the immediate over the thoughtful and factual, the film eventually craters into this philosophy itself with a kind of unbelievable cynicism that is less of a reflection upon modern society and more about one man's escalating inhumanity.  In fact, the film oddly likens him to a Jason Dean-type character, the alluring rebel-turned-terrorist from Daniel Waters' high school/John Hughes satire, Heathers (1988), who famously uttered, "The extreme always seems to make an impression."  A journalist's creed is to uphold ethical motives while simultaneously touching the nerves of public interest; in broadcast television's pursuit of juicier, fear-mongering segments from freelance vultures, however, the balance has been upset.  This disparity has increasingly pushed madcap antics into full focus.

The nocturnal, scrawny, and manically insectlike Bloom is introduced as a scrap material thief peddling his wares on a host of wary characters.  Upon speeding past a horrific freeway collision and encountering Mayhem Video newshound Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), Bloom impulsively gravitates towards a similarly dubious trade of distributing his own documented mayhem, which becomes compounded with Loder's competition.  Bloom immediately trades a stolen bicycle for a low-grade camcorder and police scanner in order to trace various blotter to the nearest crime and devastation to film the scene for the hungriest news network.  Within a short period of time, Bloom fancies himself a freelance video journalist simply through the act of pointing a camera with minimal technical skill, recruiting a cautious but easily exploitable homeless man named Rick (Riz Ahmed) to assist his delusional pursuit of fame.  The outrageous monetary propositions Bloom makes to everyone (as if they are all pawns in some interconnected business model) as well as his generally wired mannerisms, prowling around the city with little-to-no regard for the well-being or personal space of others, persuasively demonstrate a life philosophy nearly devoid of empathy.

Nightcrawler immediately plants the seed of favoring the material (footage) over the spiritual (life) through its seedy look at capitalism that only darkens at the nights elapse.  The documentation of visceral carnage at extreme close-up is definitely satirical with accompanying dialogue that possesses an "acidic screwball quality," as Carson Lund of In Review Online describes; but the film often veers incredulously far into this gonzo behavior at the crime scenes and beyond, which ultimately causes Bloom's humanity (whatever shred that was inherent) to disappear into the same abyss as journalistic integrity.  Cinematographer Robert Elswit's camera is committed to Bloom's psychology through consistently intense close-ups of not only the "action" but the character's dead-eyed expression.  As the lens only seems to leave Bloom's side for panoramic views of the city, a consensual public perspective is not shown; so, while the director may somewhat accurately argue that society's concept of news has deteriorated to a state of no return, an aggregate is absent, which is contrary to Waters' depiction and subversion of teen suicide in the aforementioned Heathers.  Beyond Bloom's folly, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), the news segment producer of a struggling LA station who begins to deal exclusively with Bloom, spills her intentions early about spinning an ongoing narrative about a carjacking crimewave, as she's determined her viewers are more reactive to the epidemic of urban crime creeping into the suburbs than any other pressure point.

Playing out over the film's own narrative, this coverage threatens to collapse into a subjectively slanted mirror.  As Nina inundates her viewers with violent images of sprawling suburban felonies, Gilroy could be accused of reductively spinning a cinematic tale of a dubious video journalist from a congruous angle.  However, this is carefully confronted through the use of Bloom's handheld camcorder, a biting comment on the representation and portrayal of violence on film.  The headline then transforms into one removed from the streets of any upscale or underclass neighborhood; what's truly newsworthy is taking place behind the scenes at the station regarding a few individuals who wield the power to manipulate their demographic, thereby fueling fear and anger towards another demographic.  Essentially, it boils down to the type of distorted revelation in Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine (2002)- that murders may decrease in actuality but their representation on television may rampantly increase- in relation to the truism pitched to Bloom by Loder.  Excluding Chuck Tatem in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951), Bloom may, in fact, more strongly embody the "If it bleeds, it leads" maxim than any other character in cinema history.  In the end, writer-director Gilroy adheres to the Jason Dean ideology rather than something more ambiguous and credible; the extreme conclusion makes an impression, but its cynicism and insularity restrain the film from achieving a more resonant commentary and investigation.