“Nightcrawler” (2014)

Finally I get to write about the movie that is so recent it may still be playing next to you. And it uses grotesque successfully! Yay!

I don’t know if “Nightcrawler” is a perfect movie. But it’s the best movie I saw in cinema this year. This doesn’t actually say much as I watched few movies in theater and most of them were disappointments. So let me put it differently. I compared it in my mind to great American movies of the 1970s (which is my favorite decade of cinema in general). It belongs to a different era and I love it.

Both Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom and Riz Ahmed as Rick give very believable performances.
Both Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom and Riz Ahmed as Rick give very believable performances.

In one sentence: Lou Bloom is a scumbag. He steals, robs and deceives. He proves throughout the movie that he respects no moral boundaries. Nothing can stop him from getting what he wants. He lives in L.A., so it seems he is in the right place. His lack of empathy is greatly appreciated as he becomes a self-employed freelance filmmaker who films accidents, shootings and fires that break out at nighttime. Nina (Rene Russo), a TV-news veteran, pays him for each material that he brings to her TV station. His shots usually get broadcasted in the morning. The anchormen always warn the audience that viewer discretion is advised. Lou Bloom watches it happily while ironing his cheap shirts. He is persistent.

Now I know that today’s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations. What I believe is that good things come to those who work their asses off. And that, good people, who reach the top of the mountain, didn’t just fall there.

Imagine this told by a person with piercing puppy eyes on a starving but smiling face.

Nightcrawler 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal
“My motto is if you want to win the lottery you’ve got to make money to get a ticket.”

Honestly, Lou Bloom’s English is so polished that it is terrifying in itself. Even the first sentence he utters is meaningful: “I’m under the opinion that this is a detour.”

Obviously the movie is a satire on newsroom/capitalism/today’s job market crisis/ideology of success (which Lou Bloom knows by heart). Choose what you like, you will find all of that.

It is also grotesque. This movie made the audience in my theater quiet at one moment and laughing at another. There are lots of funny scenes in this gripping film! Lou Bloom’s pep talks are highlights of the movie. When we contrast their pomposity and naïve optimism with the harsh reality the only reaction can be laughter. Especially when these “pursuit of happiness” words are spoken by the most despicable person in the movie. Pure grotesque.

Lou Bloom gets compared by reviewers to Norman Bates, but I’m getting Alex DeLarge vibe here. To be more specific, Malcolm McDowell as Alex in “A Clockwork Orange”. These piercing blue eyes! Another, less-known, actor who sports this look is Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes in “Wise Blood” (extremely underrated actor in an underrated movie adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s novel). What all these three characters have in common is their alienation from those that surround them and, partly, from the audience. We do not sympathize with them, but we watch them performing all these weird and drastic actions with constant fascination. All the time having in mind these innocent-looking blue eyes.

Malcolm McDowell A Clockwork Orange Alex eyes
Malcolm McDowell as Alex DeLarge in “A Clockwork Orange”
Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes in "Wise Blood"
Brad Dourif as Hazel Motes in “Wise Blood”

Jake Gyllenhaal really did a great job transforming for this movie. It’s not all about the weight loss. His face totally changed. We no longer see this adorable lost depressed boyish man from “Donnie Darko”. Here we observe a total creep who we would likely avoid in real life but on the cinematic screen he captivates our attention more than the aforementioned pretty boy.

ightcrawler 2014 Jake Gyllenhaal cafe scene
I’m not exaggerating the eyes motif.

During his developing career Lou realizes that cinematography matters. That’s why I described him as a filmmaker, not a news videographer. He discovers the relation between the right shots and the desirable emotional reaction from future TV viewers. He starts to direct the scene, does not just roll with it. Therefore I would suggest that “Nightcrawler” is all about making movies. Filmmakers know tricks that will sell their product to the audience. Rene Russo’s character symbolizes a producer who is both in power and powerless. My theory can be perhaps more easily applied to horror genre (the more blood, the better; the same goes for accidents), but I would say that the whole cinema works this way. Maybe even the whole art? Lou Bloom is creepy? What about artists who know how to appeal to the audience? He is creepy? What about us, the viewers, who enjoy being entertained that way?

Source of the grotesque?
Source of the grotesque?

I just realized it’s the fifth time that I blog about the movie/novel which takes place in Los Angeles or nearby. Either this city (or, more often, Hollywood) attracts grotesque or artists working there are more prone to noticing it. I suppose both options can be correct.

Returning to the 1970s feel I just searched for interviews with the director Dan Gilroy and I found out one where he comments on it. His comment is worth reading:

One of the things about the ’70s films I love—the films Nightcrawler is being compared to, like Taxi Driver—is that they never put their flawed characters into any one box. To call someone a sociopath or a psychopath is misrepresentative. On one level, yes, their behavior makes them diagnostically and accurately sociopathic, but a sociopath is not just black-and-white. You can’t see them from far away; they’re not rare creatures. All of us have a bit of a sociopath inside of us, and it’s wrong to think that somebody is just clearly sociopathic, because they’re not. It’s interesting to explore the shadings and nuances within a person. Those feelings exist within more human beings than people may want to acknowledge.

You can read the whole interview here (it contains some spoilers though).

As you may have noticed, I tried not to spoil much in this review, so my analysis is rather general. However, the point I am trying to prove is that such a thought-provoking movie  doesn’t happen often. Go see it. It’s not just a movie about a sociopath/psychopath. Or about L.A. Or about television. It’s about all that and more.

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3 thoughts on ““Nightcrawler” (2014)

  1. I want to see this one. Glad you liked it! When I saw a still from it last month, I thought how strange Jake Gyllenhaal looked. Like a car crash, I’m both intrigued and want to look away when it comes to the way news is presented and acquired these days. For some reason, I think I might need to take a long shower after this one.

    1. It’s possible you’ll need just that! I think the best movie about TV (and news as well) is “Network” (1976), but fortunately “Nightcrawler” doesn’t try to imitate it but to say something new. And it succeeds.

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