Movie Review - Nightcrawler

There's a corollary here to the recent Whiplash, this being another example of male obsession and dogged pursuit, past the point of insanity. At least here, the protagonist is after something tangible and that can be manifested physically. The protagonist in Whiplash chased a fantasy and the filmmaker made the mistake of not making it clear what it was he was chasing. Writer-director Dan Gilroy doesn't make that mistake. He has his protagonist lay out in cold and mechanical detail what exactly he wants and how he's going to get it. Unlike in Whiplash, his success isn't dependent on the approval of another. He builds it all on his own and retains it all no matter the cost.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Lou Bloom, a thief in Los Angeles who steals metals like copper wire, fencing or bicycles. He sells them to pawn shops or on the black market. One night, he sees a freelance videographer filming an accident on the side of the road to sell to a TV news station. Lou decides to emulate this.

He gets a camera and a police scanner and starts showing up at crime scenes to gather video to sell. He initially crosses the line and films close-ups of bloody bodies. Though unethical, he finds a buyer in Nina, played by Rene Russo, a news director at KWLA. She's a total believer in "if it bleeds, it leads."

I've never worked in Los Angeles or the TV stations there, but I have worked in TV stations on the east coast. From New York City to Philadelphia to Baltimore and DC, I'm familiar with how many stations in those markets operate. This idea of "if it bleeds, it leads," is something that isn't much of a thing, particularly post 9/11.

In the midst of the 9/11 tragedy, the image of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center was offensive to people, so much so that the networks stopped playing that video. The video of people jumping from the windows to their inevitable death was pulled as well. Recently, there has been backlash and controversy over news networks and how they deal with video of beheadings by terrorists. The general consensus has been news networks shouldn't air those beheadings.

Yet, this movie posits that this general consensus, the result of the backlash and controversy, doesn't exist and in fact there is a competitive market for blood and gore on network news. The FCC lost its mind when Janet Jackson's breast was briefly exposed. Yet, we're to believe nothing is made from a freshly murdered, still bleeding body being broadcast to millions.

Even if the FCC wouldn't say anything, the absence of any opposition from the outside insulates this movie from any sense of reality. It instead becomes a dark fantasy only plausible in the head of Lou Bloom. This absolves the movie perhaps from the successful, criminal acts by Lou, but Gilroy shows his false hand when in an obvious moment where Lou should have been killed or at least shot, he's not.

Another obvious false moment is in the wake of a plane crash, Nina is upset at Lou for not getting footage of it. The fact that she would rely on Lou for that footage and not in-house photographers for a story as big as a plane crash is preposterous. Like with Whiplash, Gilroy perhaps knows little about the subject or the profession at hand. It's more or less a vehicle for naked ambition.

The problem is this idea of nightcrawlers is not as relevant an indictment of the news media. The idea of "it bleeds, it leads" certainly isn't a new one. The FOX series Cops is more of a satire of that inherent concept. That kind of immersion, immediacy or in-your-face, real crime reporting might be what the audience wants, but not in the way Gilroy is proposing. His satire misses the mark. Yes, the dozens of dozens of police procedural entertainment shows that are increasingly violent might be an indication otherwise, but that's a whole other argument.

I suppose it's no mistake this film was released on Halloween. It's just another excuse for sociopathy with no more an accomplished performance from Gyllenhaal than Brokeback Mountain.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 57 mins.


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