What do you get when a sociopath pursues the American dream? You get Nightcrawler.
I didn’t know exactly how to feel when I walked out of the directorial debut of Dan Gilroy. There’s a lot of things to think about. My knowledge of Nightcrawler didn’t go beyond what I was hearing through the grapevine about Jake Gyllenhaal‘s “amazing” performance as Lou Reed, an ambitious man who elbows his way into the world of broadcast journalism as a freelance camera man who has an insatiable hunger to be the first at all major L.A. crime scenes. He combs the streets at night with his naive intern in a hoodie, Rick (Riz Ahmed) to find a story that adheres to the journalistic mantra of “if it bleeds it leads.” All the while he is competing with the more experienced and cocky Joe Loder (Bill Paxton). After watching the movie, I agreed…to a certain extent. But I’ll get back to J. Gyll’s performance in a bit. Aiding Lou in his flourishing career as a “nightcrawler” is veteran news producer Nina (Rene Russo). She works for the lowest rated newscast in L.A. and is starved for coverage that will launch them to the top. When Lou comes along with some bloody footage that gets them more viewers, they begin a very odd relationship that is both professional and erotic.
There are two takeaways from Nightcrawler. The first is that it is an interesting film that basically shows how horrible broadcast news is. It may be from an exaggerated perspective, but it’s not too far from the truth in this age of sensationalism. The rules are plain and simple: the more “graphic” the material is, the more viewers you’ll get and the more viral you will become. Again, this is journalism 101: “if it bleeds, it leads.” At this point, with the Internet and all, this has become common knowledge. The more shocking you are, the more likes, hits, and favorites you’ll get. In this sense, Nightcrawler doesn’t really break any new ground. But by telling it from the point of view from Lou elevates it to a whole new creepy level. There’s reason, not justification, to all of this morally wrong journalism.
The second takeaway is relevance and having a place in society. Lou, as neurotic as he is, represents all of us who ever wanted to accomplish a goal in our lives. Whether it is career or personal, you worked hard and probably, at one point or another, have been presented with an opportunity to advance by doing something that is morally questionable. The difference between you and Lou is that Lou did everything he could without flinching or regret. And that’s what makes him a sociopath and you a upstanding citizen of society.
Gyllenhaal’s unblinking performance as Lou is complex and layered with neurosis. Behind his crazy eyes, you see his fiery obsession with achieving whatever the fuck he wants without question. He moves the pieces in crime scenes to get perfect camera shots and he has a persuasive, albeit incredibly creepy charisma to get what he wants — and that includes his control over Nina. Russo squeezes all that she can out of the character of Nina who is the perfect representation of a quasi-refined, make-up smeared aging newscaster that is just as desperate as Lou. The basis of their relationship is some messed up shit, but what makes it sing is the fact that we see their professional relationship informed by their sexual one — but we never actually see Russo and Gyllenhaal get it on or even kiss.
Nightcrawler accomplished one thing that I never knew could happen: it made journalism thrilling. Granted, the movie is more of a character study about an insane sociopath who leverages his crazy to get to the top, but still — this film adds some zing and hardcore sleaziness to the world of broadcast journalism. It’s disturbing, perverse, and a morbid reflection on how news is delivered and how we consume it. It shows us all how horrible we are and I LOVED IT.
Nightcrawler opens in theaters today.