Rhonda Little writes:
There’s a thin line between ambition and madness. In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhaal (as videographer Lou Bloom) dances so effortlessly on that line it seems to disappear completely. The film is a fascinating albeit disturbing glimpse into the mind of a man whose goal is to break into the cutthroat world of local TV news. It’s a stinging indictment of the reality TV culture that characterizes local news – and beyond. More than that, Nightcrawler is a captivating and thought-provoking thriller warning what can happen when a shooter forgets what’s on the other side of the lens . . .
Nightcrawler was written and directed by Dan Gilroy. To start, the cinematography is nearly perfect. Los Angeles looks both brooding and beautiful. The action – including car chases and gunfights – is filmed with minimal intrusiveness or unnecessary artifice. The score is a subtle but huge influence; the music is as controlled and diabolical as the main character.
Most importantly, the script has plenty of meat for the main actors to chew on. Bill Paxton is never better than when he’s playing that slimeball Simon from True Lies; this performance solidifies him as Hollywood’s go-to sleazeball. But, it’s Gyllenhaal who is riveting as Lou Bloom.
Gyllenhaal’s character is a modern-day WeeGee, a crook-turned-ambulance-chaser racing to beat the first responders to fires and fatalities. Through his lens, Lou shoots his victims without passion or mercy and sells the tapes to local TV, chomping at the bit for something graphic and sensational. He walks boldly into the blood and shines his camera light on the injured, the hurt and the dying. “If it bleeds, it leads,” a competitor announces, unnecessarily. Lou’s first sale – a carjack victim shot in the neck – meets the morning newscast’s needs. “Bloody, right?” Lou asks, clarifying the criteria.
Rene Russo – defying time and gravity – is captivating as Nina, the soulless news director of an L.A. local news show whose ratings aren’t making anyone happy. She’s all-in in this role; her passion is a perfect counterpart to Jake Gyllenhaal’s cold calculation. Not counterpoint. The two characters are creepy co-conspirators, waving away all moral and journalistic concerns in pursuit of electronic bread and circus.
Nightcrawler proves that photography and marksmanship have an eerie similarity; the lens/scope can become a wall blocking empathy. Somehow, the mind views what’s seen through the screen/glass as less-than-real – even if the subject is standing only a few yards away. Somehow, violence viewed on a screen or through a lens becomes easy to tolerate, less real, more like a simulation. It can become easy to change the name of the animal or person on the other side of that wall to target.
In the case of the military and situations demanding the use of a weapon for self-defense, this disconnect can be a real and necessary help for protecting the innocent. But protecting the innocent isn’t Lou Bloom’s motivation. He’s exploitation personified. Worse, like the unseen TV viewers consuming Lou’s blood-soaked clips, we’re complicit. As we watch Lou preparing to video “gun violence” that he’s carefully staged for commercial gain, we’re forced to question our own excitement at the unfolding drama. We too become co-conspirators.
But we’re not Lou. In one key scene, the ambulance chaser could have prevented the suffering of the innocent, or at least helped the police catch the guilty. Instead, Lou does his level best to get it all on film so he can sell it. In his drive to get the story, he doesn’t care about the human beings he shot – being shot. By the end of the film, nothing distinguishes the videographer from the criminals whose carnage he captures, save the shape of the weapon attached to the lens he carries.
I can’t decide if writer Gilroy wants the audience to admire Lou Bloom’s drive and tenacity or vilify his absolute lack of humanity. Probably both, at the same time. Buck Henry attempted the same balancing act less successfully in Nicole Kidman’s To Die For. Pivoting between warm smiles and blank stares, delivering his lines in a carefully controlled monotone, Gyllenhaal makes it work. He makes you both celebrate and revile Lou Bloom’s journey from smarmy, uncertain and unemployed thief to heartless, confident and self-made news stringer.
I wanted to excuse Lou Bloom. His character is introduced as a lonely misunderstood but ambitious guy doing whatever he can to make it in L.A. Maybe he’s on the autism spectrum, or maybe finding gainful employment in L.A. is such a daunting task it turns people into sociopaths. But as I watched Bloom interact with Nina and Rick (his homeless “intern”) my sympathy for Lou Bloom evaporated. Taken as a whole, he’s one of the scariest characters I’ve seen on film in a very long time.
Hopefully, Nightcrawler will encourage camera operators – which now includes all of us – to lower the lens and look at the people they’re shooting. Whether one’s peering through a camera, a riflescope or down the sights of a gun, it’s important to remember that what you’re seeing on the other side of that wall is a person. In Nightcrawler, Lou Bloom doesn’t shoot people; he shoots targets.
[Read more of Rhonda Little’s writing at rodalena.com]