Tuesday, November 04, 2014
NIGHTCRAWLER (Dan Gilroy, 2014)
NIGHTCRAWLER shares its title with the name of an X-Men superhero, although its protagonist has more in common with the shape-shifting villain Mystique. Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is desperate to make money, and he doesn’t much care how he earns it. What he’s selling isn’t as important as long as he’s selling. Scrap metal, bicycles, it doesn’t matter to the young man with an assassin’s deadliness in the art of negotiation. Louis also possesses a seemingly unlimited ability to adapt himself according to the situation. When he decides that the freelance newsgathering business is where he wants to focus his energies, he quickly soaks up knowledge about the industry.
Louis develops an exclusive relationship with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a news director on the so-called “vampire shift” for Los Angeles’s lowest rated television station. Having noticed his good eye and lack of compunction, she pays him to get captivating video of crime and accident scenes. Louis is looking for someone as hungry as him but with less business savvy to help grow his news operation, so he hires Rick (Riz Ahmed) as a low-paid intern to listen to the police scanner, navigate, and watch the car while he captures the often horrific images. In no time Louis’s success leads to upgrading his gear and going from driving an old, battered Toyota Tercel to a new cherry red Chrysler SRT. Louis is never complacent, though, and he waits to come upon the story that will boost his power from the little he has as a stringer.
Like its main character NIGHTCRAWLER masks its primary motivation. The ostensible media satire directs NETWORK-like jabs at the sensationalistic aspects of TV news. While writer-director Dan Gilroy makes his points about as subtly as repeated pokes in the ribs, the black humor comes in the recognition that even with wider awareness of this cynical approach to informing the public, viewers continue to reward it. NIGHTCRAWLER’s final shot of broadcast towers on a hill jutting across a full moon in blackest night recalls the spires of a castle in a horror film. As much fear as they might strike in hearts, they are nevertheless alluring.
The fresh criticism aimed at the media has less to do with the content and more with the conditions in which it’s generated. Ratings-chasing news programs are just collateral damage in NIGHTCRAWLER’s mission to fire a scathing yet bleakly comedic critique of the job market and corporate practices. Gilroy unloads on an economic climate that breeds insecurity and instability in the labor force because there’s always someone else out there willing to work harder, faster, and, most importantly, cheaper. An internship system favoring the providers to a lopsided degree takes well-deserved hits . Watching Louis persuade Rick that getting a pittance for his time and efforts is in his best interest stands as one of the film’s timeliest and most wicked jokes.
Gyllenhaal electrifies with a performance that uses politeness to hide a sociopath’s mentality. He’s intimidating because he sounds so assured regurgitating business aphorisms and self-improvement language and doesn’t deviate from following what he has accepted as the one true path. While Louis has designs on being a conqueror leaving destruction in his wake, Gyllenhaal looks more like a scavenging animal as his anti-hero skulks around the wounded and killed to obtain what he needs to further himself. Wearing a haunted look, Gyllenhaal embodies the sick soul of a capitalist doomed never to sleep because there’s always a buck to be made. The scary thing is he’s destined to win.