The Bock’s Office: ‘Nightcrawler’ a terrifying tale of media mayhem
November 6, 2014
Most people probably don't realize the amount of labor that went into that 10 seconds of footage on the evening news that shocked and dismayed them. However, if you're thinking that image always tells the whole story, the guy from "Nightcrawler" will have you thinking twice.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a hard worker determined to do what it takes to make a living in Los Angeles. All he needs is an inkling of what kind of job he wants to pursue and for someone to give him a shot.
He finds what may be the perfect line of work for him in freelance video journalism, getting his foot in the door by picking up a camcorder and capturing footage of police at crime scenes and the victims there. His persistence in recording these investigations following violent crimes and accidents gets him in the good graces of a local television news director (Rene Russo) who encourages him to keep the material coming.
As he hires an assistant (Riz Ahmed) and upgrades his technology, Lou becomes a true player in the business, though he's not the only one to make a buck this way, and only by outdoing the competition will he be able to get to the top and stay there.
No matter what it takes.
It hasn't been since "Donnie Darko" that we've seen Gyllenhaal go this far into his shady side, gaunt and dead-eyed as a Travis Bickle-type loner whose obsessive personality might be a good thing if he had any kind of moral compass. The trouble with someone who can talk anyone into anything is that they rarely use their persuasiveness for constructive purposes.
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Russo wows as Nina, the seasoned behind-the-scenes producer willing to overlook her new hire's off-putting demeanor and increasing demands for the sensational clips he gives her. Apparently being around someone whose flirtatious nature is all kinds of awkward and creepy is tolerable as long as he can contribute to a world where the motto is, "If it bleeds, it leads."
But if you think Lou is the worst of this industry that makes its money off human suffering, he's really only a heartbeat away from Bill Paxton as his main competition, an old hand at being where the action is to film the worst things you can imagine.
To say Lou crosses the line of what's acceptable journalistic behavior would be inaccurate because first he would have to recognize that there is a line, with no training or guidance to suggest otherwise or tell him some of his tactics won't fly. His more manipulative moments might even be admirable if he weren't using his camera all for the sake of furthering his own career without a thought for those in front of him, including a lackey he pays slave wages while buying himself a souped-up car.
For business purposes only, of course.
In his directorial debut, screenwriter Dan Gilroy skewers everyone involved in this process: the predatory, self-centered "journalist" — I can't in good conscience call him that with a straight face — the supervisor who packages his tidbits in whatever way will score more ratings and the public that willingly eats it up again and again.
And, mercy be on the poor soul who dares question the integrity of this system because the decisions have already been made.
What's horrendous is how easy, commonplace and real this cycle is, and while Lou may be able to fool himself into thinking he's the embodiment of the American dream working his way up from the bottom, it's sickening to think that it only takes a modicum of talent and a conscience that's on mute to get what you want in this life.
The name of "Nightcrawler" may be a jokey one but is a reference to the kind of events that take place after dark and permeate our TVs whether or not we actually need to see them all courtesy of people who happen to be in the right place at the right time. It's also a name that becomes more fitting for our antihero the more we get to know him. Gyllenhaal may have more magnetism than an annelid, but he comes through absolutely in convincing us his character has all the heart of a worm.