Saturday, November 8, 2014


 3 / 5 

"Think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat slit," the news director of a struggling L.A. TV station says to Lou Bloom the first time they meet.  Bloom smiles broadly at the thought.

He has just brought in some graphic footage of bloodied, dying man, and the news director has paid him a couple of hundred bucks for the video.  It's like offering a little bit of blood to a shark -- and though Bloom's eyes nearly pop out of his head, if you look closely you can see that they resemble a shark, just as Bloom never sleeps but is always moving and never staying still as he roams the streets of Los Angeles looking for more blood.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou is the kind of guy who Norman Bates might have hired to work the night shift at the motel.  The moment we first see Lou, he's committing a petty crime that quickly escalates into a major felony.  The thing is, no one else on screen knows what we know about Lou, and that turns Nightcrawler into a crafty, intense character study that's anchored by Gyllenhaal's mesmerizing performance.

Between this and 2012's End of Watch, it's impossible not to consider Gyllenhaal one of the best actors working on screen today; he has transcended his looks, but still uses them to his advantage -- and in Nightcrawler, his mild and ingratiating outward appearance hides the truth that Lou is an amoral, sinister creep.

Nightcrawler follows him from being a nearly homeless, uneducated loser with no clear-cut abilities to being the most successful "professional news gathering service" in L.A.  That means Lou will get footage of the unthinkable, the nightmarish, the shocking, and he'll never flinch while doing it.

But there's something even more deeply disturbing about Lou -- he's a true sociopath, unable (or unwilling) to respect another human being.  In one remarkably unsettling scene, he manages to persuade Renee Russo's news director to have dinner with him, and while the meal is being served, Lou performs what can be best described as an act of verbal rape, smiling the entire time.

As he learns more about his sleazy profession, Lou teams up with a $30-a-night assistant -- an equally dead-end loser named Rick (Riz Ahmed), and from their first moment together, it's clear that Lou's endgame isn't professional success or financial gain, it's the ability to control and manipulate his world.

Racing from car crash to car crash, from fire to fire, Lou distinguishes himself by his ability to get to the scene of the grisly crime faster than anyone else -- so fast that in one key scene, he arrives before the police do and obtains footage so violent and disturbing that the station has no choice but to package it with its own logo and theme music; this is stuff that will frighten and unsettle the people of Los Angeles so much, they'll practically be obligated to tune into KWLA to see more.

Nightcrawler is cynical and downbeat and downbeat about the lack of journalism in local news, but it's also scornful of the world at large.  Not for nothing is the film set in an eternal darkness, because it doesn't seem to feel there's anything worth shedding light on.

Yet, for all its downbeat misanthropy and worthy exploration of a troubled soul, Nightcrawler never becomes more (or less) than a blacker-than-black film noir rather than compelling social commentary.  That's not to say it's not well-crafted -- indeed, it's impeccably crafted, with particularly fine camerawork by Robert Elswit that makes L.A. look both ethereal and sinister, and a highly synthesized '80s-throwback score that propels the action.

Though it's fascinating and edgy, Nightcrawler remains aloof and distant, a film that impresses with its technical prowess and compelling performances more than it engages the emotions.  It's as soulless yet intriguing as a shark ... or as Lou Bloom.

Viewed Nov. 8, 2014 -- ArcLight Sherman Oaks


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