Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler was one of those films that seemed to pass me by. I’d seen the trailer, and maybe a couple of adverts, but by the time I went to try to see it in the cinema, it was gone. Luckily for me, it’s now streaming on Netflix.
While the whole phenomenon of gruesome and kind of violent news footage that the film displays is something I’m not a hundred percent familiar with – we don’t seem to have that same level of gore and visual speculation on the news here – this is a film that marvels in the spectacle of violence, while asking whether it’s morally right that we’re fascinated by this.
Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom is hustler looking for a paying job in a difficult economy, who appears to not fully understand human interaction as he rambles off sentences lifted from an online business class to a disinterested foreman whom he has just sold stolen metal to. After witnessing a car crash, and seeing the stringers or ‘nightcrawlers’ who whip out their cameras, following the calls of the police radio, and sell their footage to the highest bidder, Lou decides that this is the job for him.
There’s a certain glamour to it all; LA lit up by car headlights and fluorescent reflections from 24 hour shop signs, all captured in a beautiful darkness by cinematographer Robert Elswit, where even a multiple casualty car crash looks like the abandoned set of a perfume advert.
As his business grows, including a deal with a local news station who very much appreciate his ideas, Lou hires a new employee Rick (Riz Ahmed), another man left broken by the unending rejection of the job market, and willing to take anything he can get, and sets about making a name for himself in the world of the twenty four hour news world.
The lines between reporting and interfering, documenting and manipulation become ever more blurred throughout the film – from the producer Nina telling him that they only want crimes in the nicer neighbourhoods in town, to trespassing onto a crime scene for the best information, the film criticises the way in which we consume media – how what doesn’t get seen tells us as much about society as the lead item on the morning news.
Jake Gyllenhaal perfectly captures the downward spiral of a man who didn’t exactly start at the top to begin with, who will do to anything to achieve his business ambitions. His face, wide eyed and skeletal, lurks around the edge of the frame, just outside the action, but always looking in and wondering how he can turn this into something more. Even though there are some pretty staggering moments throughout the 117 minute run time, the final few scenes will take your breath away.
It’s a horror film without the jump scares, a psychological thriller that leaves you wondering about the impact of the media as the credits roll. Definitely recommended, but maybe don’t watch it at night.