“What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people but that I don't like them?”
Nightcrawler is a film with big, important ideas and knows exactly what to do with them. It explores the media industry from a pessimistic angle and interprets the human condition as one that is defined by facts and figures than by heart or emotion. What you walk away with is a whole platitude of emotions and thoughts. It may make you question the ethics of television news and the long-term results of our information-saturated generation, and not for the better. The main character in the film is not a stand-in for the average person, but more a blueprint for where we might be headed.
Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a man living in Los Angeles who desperately wants to make a name for himself, but doesn't quite know how. He spends all his time on his computer, reading about anything and everything. Jobless, he steals equipment from construction sites for god-knows-what-purpose, until one night when he stumbles upon the scene of a car accident. Fascinated by a freelance video journalist (Bill Paxton) on the scene, who calls himself a nightcrawler, Louis decides that he wants to start filming accidents and crime scenes, and then sell them to news stations, for a living. After getting his foot in the door with the help of a network exec named Nina (Rene Russo), and hiring a desperate young man named Rick (Riz Ahmed) to be his partner for $30 a night, Louis puts himself in one deadly situation after another in an effort to be the best in the business. And he’ll do anything to achieve that.
Written and directed by first-timer Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler is an excellent dark satire about the television media industry and a powerful social commentary on desensitization and its effects on a person’s humanity. Louis is a fascinating character; a man with no soul or grip on reality due to a disgusting amount of time spent on the Internet (you know, the same amount of time most people spend on the Internet). To him, life can be dissected into a series of facts, and Louis lacks all emotional connection to the real things he encounters. The joy of seeing others suffer seems to be the only emotion he does convey, which makes his character all the more unsettling. He gets a thrill out of the job, getting closer to wounded bodies than other nightcrawlers would, even lingering on them and capturing them at the most “artistic” angles. It gives his resulting footage a pornographic aesthetic (if dead, bloody bodies are your thing). The scary part is, it’s this creepy quirk that gets him ahead in the business, to the point where he has total control over the exec who got him the job in the first place.
Gyllenhaal deserves an Oscar nom for his work in this, and I don’t say that lightly. He lost twenty pounds for the role, and completely disappears into it. I could hardly believe one of the most pretty-boy actors in Hollywood was playing one of the slimiest, disgusting characters I’ve seen in a very long time. His eyes bulge with amazement at horrific things, he speaks like he’s always lying, and he has a way of making you hate him while still being totally invested in his story. Try not to wince during scenes where he recites career-building business models as if reading them from a textbook (all while the camera refuses to cut away from his robotic expression). The rest of the cast is great as well, especially Ahim, who plays what might be the only main character in the film who sort of resembles a human being. A stupid human being, but a human being nonetheless.
Nightcrawler is a very weird film, which makes me happily surprised that it was the number one film at the box office last weekend. Then again, it tied with Ouiji, so make of that what you will. Maybe people just saw it because they thought it was a horror movie, and in a sense, it is one. Gyllenhaal playing one of the scariest characters you’ll ever see, and thought the things he does are despicable, but is he really any better than the cameramen only ten feet away? Is he just some monster forged out of his own free will or is he just taking the next step to where the media is headed anyway? Does any news station report honest news or is it really only about the ratings? The film is loaded with questions that don’t get a clear answer, and that seems to be exactly the point. Just watch a news broadcast after seeing Nightcrawler and tell me it doesn’t seem a bit more contrived and heartless in its pandering to the information-hungry viewing public. It’s a savage (and also darkly hilarious) film that doesn’t pull punches with its depiction of violence, keeps you on the edge of your seat, and makes you wonder what the world might be like if more Louis Blooms existed in our world. Maybe they already do. And maybe, in your own way, you’re one of them.