Nightcrawler: How far would you go to make the headlines?
Nightcrawler follows one man’s quest to claw his way up the career ladder, from a life of petty crime to the world of ‘nightcrawling’, a blood sport where stringers capture footage of graphic crime scenes, their motto – “if it bleeds, it leads” – to sell on to news channels. It is in this insalubrious world, bolstered by the media’s thirst for ratings, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) excels, scheming his way to success.
Positioned from the start in an unorthodox situation with this anti-hero, it is precisely because we are seeing the story unfold from Bloom’s eyes that we can suspend disbelief and root for him. While there are some timing issues with the inevitability of Bloom’s life spiralling out of control paired with non-apparent repercussions, Director and Writer, Dan Gilroy could argue that this reflects the state of today’s media that has few broadcasting restrictions and this is satire after all. This might not forgive the combination of a borderline homicidal sociopath with the unsatisfying lack of payoff for the audience, but it is a minor indiscretion for this otherwise tightly wound script with a topical yet non-preachy moral message at its core.
Yet something’s not on point with Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Bloom, which can come across as a grotesque pastiche of previous roles, with limited nuance, odd for an actor lauded for portraying complex characters. Eyes wide throughout the film, he is sadistic, verging on possessed and while this can be dismissed as his personality, it does not give the audience a sense of unpredictability. The ambitious loner, an autodidact revered as ruthless mentor, should be an enigma, but we know everything about Bloom from the start and that is a shame. We take similar issue in supporting characters, Rick (Riz Ahmed) the sidekick hired to navigate the LA streets at high speed and Nina (Rene Russo) the producer with her career on the line.
But there are some brilliant looks in Nightcrawler, well thought-out moments that ease the tension and give the film the pacing crucial to a horror thriller like this one. These flashes of genius remind us of the pool of talent here, suggesting that while the performances are good, the best has not been brought out of this talented cast. A lack of cohesion throughout limits the build-up and leads to a feeling of incredulity that might not have been a pitfall perhaps for a more experienced director. But there’s so much more to Nightcrawler than this slight failing and Gilroy shows great promise in this his directorial debut.
Both a sardonic indictment of news media’s thirst for ratings and a chilling satire of the lengths some go to for the American dream, there are no holds barred in this original take down of not only a largely unregulated media but also the public’s obsession with increasingly graphic imagery. As we listen to Bloom mentor his assistant, Rick, and recite the mantras of the business world he has painstakingly studied online, we are shown a mirror of the dog-eat-dog world that does in fact exist in our own and the hyper reality of a capitalism that lauds persistence, ambition and going above and beyond for the ultimate goal – financial and social standing.
Bloom’s relationship with his boss Nina provides a further and delicious lampoon of ‘office politics’ and ‘sleeping your way to the top,’ reminding us once again that this extreme character is not all that far away from perceived normalcy.
Overall, Nightcrawler is that rare revelation of independent cinema that has an original concept, a killer script and a buzz-worthy cast. It topped the US Box Office in its opening weekend and deserves to do well internationally, even though it faces tough competition.
I’ll give it a 4/5.
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