For Nightcrawler, clear your throat and do your best movie trailer guy impression: IN A WORLD WHERE…fewer and fewer people are getting their news from television, news teams are left competing for the scraps…
Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) makes his living from scraps, salvaging, but mostly stealing, copper wire for resale.
For someone of low moral probity, he finds it easy to make the transition from con artist to TV news stringer when he manages to sell some “If it bleeds it leads.” video footage to a station with sagging ratings.
Now it’s not hard to take a withering view of television news. This reviewer (briefly) went to journalism school and was told by a professor, “People like pets and kids”, however the level of cynicism displayed by producers at this station is beyond the pale. True, news outlets are not above paying for all kinds of content, but IN A WORLD WHERE crime is as commonplace as LA, murder after murder would only have diminishing returns $$$-wise. Yet this station pays for videos that look like ISIS productions when it’s hard to believe any of this would air anywhere, even on the sleaziest 6 O’Clock News Hour.
In Nightcrawler, Louis quickly moves up the ranks, procuring more professional video cameras and a police scanner, and even hires an assistant to get to crime scenes, fires, accidents etc. that much more quick.
This is another conceit that borders on the absurd: with margins being as tight as they are (some TV stations pay $75 for a piece of footage, which barely covers gas, especially in perpetually gridlocked Los Angeles) it beggars belief that Louis would hire an assistant. However, it’d be a very different movie indeed if there were no one for our protagonist to chat with.
Riz Ahmed is amazing as the assistant, who’s kept under Louis’ employ because he’s homeless and therefore really in it for the money. As a result, he’s somewhat forced to do Louis’ bidding with no moral agency when all professional ethical considerations (such as they are) are left on the cutting room floor.
Gyllenhaal as Louis is unhinged and creepy, doing everything it takes to undermine the competition (Bill Paxton as ENG vet Loder). But his character is too bug-eyed and one note. According to UBC criminal psychologist Dr. Robert Hare, people who are psychopaths “can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists, ready with a clever comeback…” Not so here. Right from the get-go, we see that Louis Bloom is a nutter; his character isn’t gradually revealed. It’s the same criticism levied at Jack Torrance in The Shining, an otherwise brilliant film.
Still, Nightcrawler is not without its thrills It’s frequently gripping and its two-hour run time is never an issue. Rene Russo is dynamite as the world-weary producer whose contract is coming to a close and who’s coerced into an Indecent Proposal arragement.
The denouement reveal is corny and heavy-handed, but then again, TV news isn’t the paragon of subtlety. Network it ain’t but failed aspirations aside, Nightcrawler is a dynamite popcorn movie.
***1/2 (out of 5)