2015-03-06 12:13

What it's about:

Lou Bloom is a “nightcrawler”, a freelance video-journalist who prowls the streets at night looking for grizzly accidents and violent crime scenes to film and sell to a local TV news station. In such a cut-throat industry, however, Bloom finds himself taking more and more extreme measures to get ahead – a perilous descent down a moral black hole that only feeds into his already anti-social state of mind.

What we thought:

Nightcrawler is, all at once, an edge-of-your-seat thriller, a satire on journalistic ethics and a disturbing probe into the mind of a sociopath and, though it doesn't exactly always make for the most pleasant of viewing, it is compelling as hell. Especially for us (amateur or otherwise) psych-majors and philosophy enthusiasts.

Lou Bloom (played with chilling brilliance by Jake Gyllenhaal) seems off from the moment we first meet him, but as the film progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that is no garden variety creep we're dealing with but a full-blown sociopath; a truly deranged individual who would manipulate anyone and anything for his own ends. He's not so much anti-social in the colloquial sense of being shy or introverted but in the more literal, clinical sense. He's a man who clearly despises people and is utterly lacking in anything even remotely resembling empathy. Every interaction he has with other people is done purely as a means for his own ends – as a way to gain his base desires of power, money and/ or sex.

As we watch him blackmail women into sleeping with him, manipulate crime to suit his own ends and almost literally throw under the bus anyone who stands in his way, we get a rare glimpse into a mind hopefully quite unlike our own. Mind you, considering how mental illness is, more often than not, an extreme reflection of “normal” human behaviour, perhaps the film itself is really just an extreme commentary on the cut-throat ruthlessness that lies at the hedonistic heart of unfettered capitalism.

Writer and first-time director Dan Gilroy certainly isn't afraid to turn his darkly satirical gaze elsewhere. The picture he paints of the media, in particular, is not a pretty one. Aside for the “nightcrawlers” themselves who prey on tragedy and the misfortune of others, the station to whom Bloom sells his macabre video clips is little better.

Headed up by Nina Romina (a typically on-point Rene Russo, who has been missing from our screens for far too long), it's a news station that is less about serving the public interest and more about feeding a morbid public voyeurism. While some of her underlings seem reluctant to push the boundaries too far from a modicum of good taste, Romina herself understands that the more shocking and sensationalist the story – and all the more so the more shocking and sensationalist its accompanying video – the better ratings they get, the more money the corporation makes and the more money and esteem she herself receives. Romina and Bloom are a match made in hell, but what's really horrifying is that only one the two is clearly and demonstrably mentally unstable.  

The only “good”, relatively undamaged character in the film is Bloom's driver and assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed) but even he is brought down and corrupted by what goes around him. Worst of all for Rick is that his “abnormal” decision to stick with Bloom even as he descends further and further into moral murkiness is his desperate need for the few bucks that Bloom throws his way. Unlike Bloom, Romina or just about every other major character in the film, Rick is a tragic figure whose desperate need for basic survival becomes just another thing for the sociopaths – both literal or otherwise – of the world to manipulate, use and discard.

Nightcrawler, in short, is not afraid to take a long, hard look at the absolute worst of human nature, whether satirically, dramatically or even just for the sake of white-knuckle thrills and, though it is a film informed by passionate moral outrage, it offers little, on screen, in the way of a light at the end of the tunnel. Horrible people often prosper, perhaps even prosper the most, and this is a film less about the bad guys getting their comeuppance, as much as it is about the bad guys getting what they want most in this world – at the low, low price of their (and others') souls.

Nightcrawler isn't just as powerful (im)morality play, however, it's also a pretty spectacular piece of tough, edgy and thrilling filmmaking. The acting is uniformly brilliant (none more so, of course, than Gyllenhaal who has never, ever been better) and the visuals and direction chillingly moody and it's a textbook exercise in terse, stripped down but relentlessly compelling storytelling that also happens to feel like it has something urgent to say. Think a much less explicit but even more disturbing Wolf of Wall Street and you're half way there...

Read more on:    jake gyllenhaal  |  movies

Yusuf 2015/03/11 10:43
Great review Ilan. definitely one of the most compelling movies I have seen recently. A pity that Gyllenhaal (and Ahmed"s) performances were laregly ignored by awards voters - not that it matters. I am sure this will emerge as a cult favourite in the long term.
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