Movie Review: Nightcrawler

"What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people but that I don't like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you'd have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that's what I'm telling you, as clearly as I can." -Lou Bloom, Nightcrawler

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 . . .

Bill Paxton returns as Simon from True Lies.

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.

“If I had a picture of two handcuffed criminals being booked, I would cut the picture in half and get five bucks for each.” – Weegee

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.

“The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles." -Mahatma Ghandi

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]

comments

  1. avatar LC Judas says:

    The disconnect. I predict a lot of anti-movie comments but the disconnect, for anyone who has banged out thousands of rounds, is a real thing. And it’s that thing that you need to be cognitive of and understand, even if you can’t control it.

    Point and click when real people are your addressed subjects is not the time to be disconnecting.

    1. Precisely, LC Judas. There’s a real disconnect that happens with both photographers and marksmen look through their respective lenses. We seem to be living in a shoot-first-ask-questions-later world, but that’s not always a good thing. In fact, I think it’s mostly bad. Thanks for your thoughtful remarks, and for reading.

      ~Rhonda

      1. avatar Rokurota says:

        Have you seen “Man Bites Dog”?

  2. avatar Jeff says:

    I’m confused about why this is on TTAG.

    1. avatar Robert Farago says:

      See comment above yours.

    2. avatar Mark Lee says:

      RE: Jeff says:
      November 18, 2014 at 16:22
      I’m confused about why this is on TTAG.

      I concur.

      1. avatar drav says:

        This is the only blog I visit that readers are vehement about every post being strictly about the subject.
        Believe it or not, the writters for this blog are human beings that may want to occasionaly share things that stray from that subject. If reviews for every movie in box office popped up I can understand the issue, but the rare (and it is pretty rare) times something non gun is posted Im able to see it for what it is, writters for the blog showing they are actual…human beings.

        1. avatar Taylor TX says:

          Then I suggest you never venture over to TFB, its even worse imho.

      2. avatar Ralph says:

        @Jeff and Mark Lee, the review is here because it pisses you off. Enjoy it, because I sure do.

      3. If this site is entitled “The Truth About Guns” and that’s the site’s focus, then a movie review focusing on the mindset some people have when they shoot guns is a relevant topic for discussion. While the film centered around a camera man, his mindset became a mirror image of the mindset of the gun-wielding criminals he chased, and something law-abiding responsible gun-owners should be aware of and take care to avoid.

        ~Rhonda

  3. avatar former water walker says:

    I mite esoteric for TTAG. Ralph where are you? BTW Jake G. never displays real emotion in anything. Mr. Monotone.

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      Well, it’s not really a movie that I would choose to see, and RF allows me to view and review the movies that I want to see and review. For which I am eternally grateful.

  4. avatar Ing says:

    For some reason, I thought this was part of the Marvel franchise. (Yeah, I’m clueless like that.)

    I’m glad I didn’t go watch it by mistake. Sounds like the kind of downer movie I try to avoid. I know the world sucks, and I have absolutely no desire to spend several hours of my life feeling it in my gut when I don’t have to.

    On the other hand, judging by the review, it seems like a spot-on brilliant encapsulation of the modern media machine’s dark soul. If it has one at all. Actually, it did at one time — a soul and a conscience — but Edward R. Murrow is long gone, and in his place we have an industry defined by sociopaths wearing the desiccated remains of a great man’s integrity.

    1. avatar Jeff says:

      Gylenhaal actually looks the part of Marvel’s Nightcrawler, though I don’t know about his skill with eastern Euro accents.

  5. avatar drav says:

    Bunch of people crying about this not being about guns in 3…2….

  6. avatar Taylor TX says:

    “Bill Paxton is never better than when he’s playing”

    GAME OVER MAN!

    1. avatar Ralph says:

      Bill Paxton is one of the best character actors / supporting players ever. He is incapable of rendering a bad performance.

  7. avatar Accur81 says:

    Cool review. However, I’m boycotting most Hollywood movies these days. As someone who patrols the streets of LA, I can tell you all sorts of things about a lack of empathy. Cell phone vids are everywhere. Compassion? Not so much.

  8. avatar BDub says:

    Nice review. For a similar vibe in a movie, check out Johnny Skidmarks (1998).

  9. avatar RLC2 says:

    Great review. Ms Little zero’s in on something as disturbing in the mainstream media reporting, that has long been acknowledged, in If it bleeds, it leads.”

    And posters here, like A81 mentioned, as in the cellphone video we see too much of lately, including the one just after Ferguson, where it appears the camera man is escalating, or at least gloryifying the chaos, perhaps for his own self aggrandizement.

    http://www.mediaite.com/online/graphic-cell-phone-video-shows-st-louis-police-shooting-knife-wielding-man/

    Ms Litle is reminding us how the news cameraman doesnt see the subject as human, or doesn’t care, in the editors push to hype the violence, and the need to make money, for a scoop, or to score a political point.

    Its the news business, just like any business in a free market, competition arises to fill a need, the papparazzi, and new anarko-wannbe next youtube sensation rapper with a go pro” kids know this….

    someone will pay to dance in the blood, be it CNN,Vice, or MDA…
    or even, something more cynical is underway, escalating, to fulfill that political need, that narrative, that community organized Talking Point Memo, perhaps….
    remember the report of Obamas secret meeting with Ferguson protesters…”Stay on course…”

    http://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2014/11/obama-meets-with-ferguson-activists-says-hes-concerned-they-stay-on-course/

    You don’t find this kind of commentary on the intersections of gun culture in too many other places…nor will you find brutally clear examination of media morals, when it comes to guns, in the politically correct StateRunMedia, certainly not among the well trained lapgogs in the WH Press pool….

    Some times its up to the Artists to point out the obvious…and wise consumers to pick up on it.

    You dont have to eat every dish on the menu. Or like it.
    But I respect its RFs barbeque, and I’m not b1tchin’ about the free food…

    Maybe thats why TTAG zoomed to number one in the gun blog world so fast…

    1. Dear RLC2,

      You wrote,

      “You don’t find this kind of commentary on the intersections of gun culture in too many other places… [snip] But I respect its RFs barbeque, and I’m not b1tchin’ about the free food… Maybe that’s why TTAG zoomed to number one in the gun blog world so fast…”

      You’ve nailed the secret to RF’s success: he’s more interested in thoughtful commentary and the pursuit of the truth, regardless of the avenue by which that material comes, than some political agenda.

      The gun culture is viewed by a lot of people as a bunch of thoughtless lemmings who are little to the right of Dirty Harry and about as intelligent as youtube’s “Drunk Steve.” (Look him up-hilarious.) This site does a lot to dispel that incorrect characterization, and RF should be thanked for that. I’m honored to have my writing appear here.

    2. avatar JSW says:

      RLC2 writes, “…Ms Litle is reminding us how the news cameraman doesnt see the subject as human, or doesn’t care, in the editors push to hype the violence, and the need to make money, for a scoop, or to score a political point…”
      Perhaps, Mr 2, that is how many in the world view news shooters, but it is far from the truth.
      As a retired shooter, I will defend the vast majority of still working shooters on every place on earth and tell you this is not even close to the truth of being a news shooter.
      First, as a news shooter, I was told by my employer that, “Our first job is to report the story, not become the story, or even part of it.” True, all too often a newsman does become the story, or part of it. Many of us do develop a sense of detachment to protect ourselves from doing other than our job. Many times I had to force myself to not become involved or offer help when I knew I could, reminding myself I had a job to do. Were it a matter of being the only salvation for a life, I’m sure I and most other shooters would jump right in. Still, the job comes first.
      It’s a tough job with low pay and not one every person could do, with being an Indie news gatherer the toughest of all these days with the plethora of cell phone vids now used as news lenses these days.
      I’ve not seen this movie, thinking it was another comic book character with superhuman powers and to be avoided, but this review has made me want to see it now. Of course, being a fan of WeeGee, and others, is encouragement as well.

  10. avatar Ralph says:

    A very lyrical review, Rhonda! Based on your synopsis, it seems that “Nightcrawler” is a more modern and even more cynical take on Joe Pesci’s “The Public Eye,” which was very loosely based on the work of Arthur “Weegee” Fellig. Hollywood does like to copy itself, doesn’t it? Which is okay if the copy is really good, which it usually isn’t.

    Best quote from The Public Eye: “People like to see the dead guy’s hat.”

    1. Ralph,

      Thanks so much! As a wannabe poet/photographer type wading in the strange waters of a gun-blog, having the adjective “lyrical” attached to my review is a huge compliment. (I know what you regular readers are thinking: “Good gawd: there’s a freakin’ girly-girl writing on our man-cave walls! Mayday! Mayday!”)

      We’re obviously gonna be friends, Ralph: you know WeeGee. I’m off now to find “The Public Eye”, which I’ve never seen. 🙂

      ~Rhonda

      1. avatar JSW says:

        “The Public Eye” is probably the best work Pesci has done. You won’t regret seeing it. Now I’ve got to dig out my copy and watch it again (which is what I thought to do soon as I read your review of “Nightcrawler”).
        Another you may find interesting is “Harrison’s Flowers” and for counterpoint, “Underfire”. THen there’s the made for Tv “Shooter” from the late 80s- about Vietnam combat news photogs (pure fantasy).

  11. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    I dunno if this movie really depicts our liberal main stream media. Usually they are little Bolsheviks on a nihilistic Communist crusade to report how bad our society is and how they are going to usher in a new golden age of politically correct National Socialism. Oh, they do love the blood and gore, but it is a vehicle to push their think globally act locally agenda.

  12. avatar Indiana Tom says:

    Well, Night crawler is a good name for this movie as the liberal reporters are a can of worms.

  13. avatar barnbwt says:

    No mention of the Challenger? What the heck, guy?! I’m told it’s practically a co-star…

  14. avatar Mike H in WA says:

    As a self employed videographer who worked 13 years in TV news (though mostly in the studio, rarely in the field), I totally get what he’s saying.

    I remember once when I was new and learning the ropes, and did a ride along with a morning news crew. We were sent to the scene of a murder… it turned out to be next door to where I went for my guys’ Bible study, and the person who tried to resuscitate the victim was in that study. The victim’s family was all there, grieving their loss. Across the block, a bunch of the cops and medical crews were making jokes and yucking it up. Understandable, as you need gallows humor to make it when you deal with this sort of thing everyday… but it was in earshot of the family, which didn’t go over well.

    Our photog, who had been in the business almost as long as I had been alive at that point, gave me some of the best advice ever at that moment… “Never forget your humanity. Never forget that these are people.” At which point, we witnessed a crew from a competing station come running up and try and shove the camera in the family’s face… more concerned with getting an interview than with thinking about the loss the family had just suffered (mind you, it’s 4:30am). The family let off such a barrage of profanity towards the news crew that they quickly retreated.

    Once it had settled down a bit, our photog went up to the family without his camera and introduced himself… and was met with a similar barrage of profanity. He stood there, took it, then explained that he didn’t want to put a camera in their face or anything, but that we would be around for another hour, and if they wanted to say anything on camera… any words for the murderer (who was still on the loose), or how great the son was that they lost, or anything like that, that this was their chance. He gave them his card, and said if they changed their mind, to call him. Otherwise, we planned on leaving them alone.

    45 minutes later, his cell phone rang…

    1. avatar Rokurota says:

      Never forget your humanity is a great mantra no matter what our vocation.

  15. avatar JoeVK says:

    I think Bill Paxton is never better than when he’s playing Morgan Earp in Tombstone.

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