(A quick aside before I begin my review. It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. My Funny Games review from August to be exact. It’s been a busy Fall for me. I finally have a final draft version of my long gestating film noir screenplay that’s consumed me for much of this semester. I also got hired to be the interim managing editor for a month for the music journalism site that I write for on occasion, and I also more recently got hired to do freelance reviews by GameSpot, one of the internet’s biggest video game journalism websites. That said, it’s my goal to do these reviews for my “A” and “A+” films with more consistency cause I like to keep this particular writing muscle fresh.)
Civil libertarians (that are not the same thing as the Rand-ian variety) will tell you that if there’s a societal demand and there isn’t a net negative utility to the supply of this demand, then there should be no governmental impediment to its delivery. Generally, I’m inclined to agree with that world view. But, as with all axiomatic principles, that involves accepting some rather ugly consequences of that philosophy. We want to get high, but addiction flourishes. We want freedom of artistic expression, but crude and vapid reality television rules the airways. We want unfiltered access to “news” and the stunning Nightcrawler examines how low we’ll sink to get it.
There’s a symbiotic and mutually parasitic relationship between the press and its audience. Turn on 24 hour cable news and it’s clear the press’s role as the proverbial Fourth Estate is meaningless in today’s world of “infotainment” where the bar leans heavier towards “entertainment” than “information,” and local news is even worse with an insatiable appetite for sensationalized crime stories over issues of real substance. And, it’s unclear who to blame. Do you blame the news stations that air this trash or the audiences who keep tuning in week after week for more? Nightcrawler lays the entirety of Los Angeles and the media world to waste with its scathing indictments.
Louis Bloom (End of Watch‘s Jake Gyllenhaal) is an Asperger’s spectrum street hustler. He steals anything not nailed down to sell to scrap yards and pawn shops all while presenting himself as a grand philosopher and renaissance man to anyone who will listen. But, his life is changed forever when he witnesses a group of “nightcrawlers” at work. Nightcrawlers are free-lance camera men roaming Los Angeles, responding to emergency calls hoping for gory footage of death and injury and crime so that they can sell it to whichever news station is the highest bidder. Louis quickly discovers that he can make a living at this.
And if nightcrawlers are vultures as a species, picking at the bones of tragedy to make a quick buck, Louis is a natural hyena, tearing in while the wounds are still fresh and vulnerable. He has zero regards for what little ethics his trade displays, and Louis will cross police barriers, break into homes, and harass whoever he needs to get his shots. And when Louis finds Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a cut-throat local news producer willing to show whatever it takes to put her station on the top, he gains a partner that fuels his sociopathic need to be recognized.
Did I mention Nightcrawler is a comedy? It is, and it’s a fucking hilarious one at that. Although the trailers market the film as a crime thriller, Nightcrawler wouldn’t be as great a film if that were its true modus operandi. Nightcrawler is the 2010s hipster fusion of Network and Natural Born Killers with a touch of American Psycho thrown in for good measure. Writer/director Dan Gilroy crafts a scathing and laugh-out-loud portrayal of self-aggrandizement, exploitative media, and a sick and twisted spin on the American dream.
Louis Bloom is the role Jake Gyllenhaal was born to play. Imagine Donnie Darko‘s anti-social tendencies cranked up to eleven with the clipped speech of a car salesman, and you have Louis. Louis is devoid of almost anything resembling a human personality except for outstretched greed and insatiable ambition yet Gyllenhaal channels him with such coiled intensity and slime that his performance is simply entrancing. And Rene Russo’s Nina Romina is Bloom’s perfect dark mirror: equally attracted and repulsed by his utter disregard for basic human niceties.
Nightcrawler‘s Los Angeles is a Lynch-ian nightmare come to life. Dan Gilroy magnifies the city’s plasticine sheen a thousandfold during the day, but at night, every shadow and every glimmer of smoke or neon in the distance portends of another tragedy to exploit or life to ruin. Stepping into that Los Angeles requires a bath before you leave, and a film hasn’t this expertly visually captured the dark underbelly of fame and the city where those dreams are born (and more likely die) since Mulholland Dr.
Nightcrawler‘s deliciously dark sense of humor is a breath of subversive fresh air though the film’s moral outrage is there for anyone paying attention. I suspect that the film will become a cult classic along the lines of its obvious peers I mentioned earlier in the years to come as others disgusted with trash journalism (as well as pretentiously self-righteous conventional “prestige” films) discover this gem. If you like your laughs with a serious dose of unease and creepiness, Nightcrawler is unlike anything else from this decade.
Final Score: A+