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Review

‘Nightcrawler’ offers bleak look into modern television news organizations

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November 7, 2014

Jake Gyllenhaal has, over the last 10 years, revitalized his career with at least seven flawless performances in films such as “Brokeback Mountain,” “Zodiac,” “Prisoners,” and “Enemy.” You can now add his performance as Louis Bloom in “Nightcrawler” to that list.

Gyllenhaal has become one of Hollywood’s most dependable actors. As audiences have witnessed, he is at his best when portraying flawed, unstable characters, and Bloom is likely the most unstable and downright demented character he has ever played.

Movie poster for Nightcrawler.
Jake Gyllenhaal is the star of “Nightcrawler,” which was written and directed by Dan Gilroy.

Gyllenhaal lost weight to play the role of Bloom, which only adds terror to his squirrely, complicated character. Gyllenhaal’s eyes seem to nearly bulge out of his head; his lanky body flows almost ape-like; and his smile may provide goose bumps.

Bloom is a witty man who is in search of his calling in Los Angeles, California. He likes to learn new things and try different odd-jobs to simply make ends meet. Bloom will stop at nothing to succeed–nothing.

After a brief career in thievery, he happens across a brutal car crash on the highway one dark evening. The car is ablaze and two police officers are attempting to pull a bloody and unconscious man from the one-car accident, when suddenly a van pulls up. Two men leap out and start filming the act of heroism.

Bloom’s interest is piqued. He talks to a man filming, Joe (Bill Paxton), who gives him the rundown of his business. Basically, Joe drives around and films car crashes, shootings, robberies, car chases and home invasions and sells the footage to television news organizations.

Bloom wants in, so he buys a cheap camera and becomes a “nightcrawler,” which is what Joe calls his profession. After some rather unsuccessful attempts at filming a couple crime scenes, Bloom films a man who was gunned down outside a drug store being treated by paramedics. The quality is bad but the footage is raw, bloody and “news-worthy.” He sells the footage to Channel 6 News for $250.

It is here that he begins a working relationship with Nina (Rene Russo), the channel’s nightly news editor. Nina sees something in Bloom and asks that he bring his nightly footage to her first. Bloom then hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), to help with GPS coordinates, car parking and other small tasks. He pays the currently homeless Rick $30 a night.

Slowly Bloom begins to put together quite a resume of footage that makes headlines on the nightly news. Again, he will stop at nothing to get the footage he wants. He enters crime scenes when the police are outside questioning witnesses; he physically moves dead bodies into the light so he can get better shots; and he eventually puts people in harms way on numerous occasions, all for the sake of good television. Before long, Bloom begins to make $15,000 a night.

The film starts slow but builds to a big finish. Bloom’s character goes from being oddly sympathetic to completely loathable. He treats his colleagues and “friends” like peasants. While Bloom’s character is detestable, audiences will still be glued to the screen because of Gyllenhaal’s ability to be simultaneously charming and distasteful.

The plot itself, while unique, is not what makes this film work–it’s Gyllenhaal. Without him, this film could possibly have audiences heading for the exits early. It’s as if the more maniacal Bloom’s character becomes the more interesting the film becomes. We no longer hope Bloom can succeed as a nightcrawler, we merely want to see what crazy act he’ll perform next.

“Nightcrawler” can be viewed as an allegory for the recent debauchery of some breaking television news organizations. The news used to be “newsy;” now it is all about crime, fires, crashes, sex and drugs, because it’s what people want to see–you can admit it. Writer and director Dan Gilroy intended audiences to be glued to the screen in the final half of the film, so he can point his finger at us and say: “See.”

We are seemingly wired to crave action and violence in our nightly news, but with his creation of “Nightcrawler,” Gilroy wants us to examine the cost.

“Nightcrawler” is Gilroy’s directorial debut. Gilroy is also married to Russo, and his older brother, Tony, wrote and directed the Oscar-nominated “Michael Clayton,” which is one of the best films since the turn of the century. The cinematography by Robert Elswit, who won an Oscar for “There Will Be Blood,” is reminiscent of a Michael Mann (“Heat”) film, which is certainly a positive.

Fans of Gyllenhaal have to see this film, but if you are looking for a character to root for, go elsewhere.

Jack Tuthill is an alumnus of UW-River Falls. He was editor of the <em>Student Voice</em> during the 2014-2015 academic year.