November 20, 2014 by Zack
When you watch the news, you are not watching reality. You are watching a version of reality. You’re watching a story. You can only experience reality on a personal level–if you were there. But it’s not news when it happens to you, it’s your life. The role of media has always seemed to be to shape some kind of moral narrative arc to better ourselves by learning from it–if we take the right thoughts away from it. Like, if you see crime, and you see what happens to criminals, you don’t want to commit crime. Especially if you see how vile, violent, and devastating it can be. Of course, not all news is like this. And I may even be reading into it more than needbe–but if there’s one thing to take away from the film “Nightcrawler”, the directorial debut of a very promising young filmmaker named Dan Gilroy, it’s that exploitation in news media shapes the narrative more than anything else.
I can’t say “Nightcrawlers” is a full on satire; but it does exaggerate some truths and take liberties to get the point across. However, in most of what you see, it doesn’t seem far fetched to believe and the character of Louis Bloom absolutely seems like someone who could exist. Bloom is played by Jake Gyllenhaal in possibly his most engaging performance I’ve ever seen. He’s a dichotomy. He presents himself as very professional, speaks in a precise tone; while he’s verbose, he’s very knowledgeable and even clever. But he’s also a petty thief, a pathological liar and morally bankrupt. This seems to be the perfect blend for his new endeavor. He starts off as just a pilferer who wants to make a quick buck; but then he’s enticed to shooting footage for a news show after watching an amateur film crew cover a car accident. Bloom becomes obsessed, and buys a camera and a police scanner.
He hires a naive but desperate assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed) to help him navigate to hot spots to get there before the other “nightcrawlers” do. One of his rivals, played by Bill Paxton, begins to take notice of Bloom’s rising success and competence with the camera. And his willingness to get really close to the story in order to shoot it. Bloom also gets a good reputation with the news station he sells his work to, headed by Nina (Rene Russo). Bloom declines Joe (Paxton)’s offer to join his team, and even does something rather extreme in order to keep an edge over them to get footage before they arrive.
It leads to the heart of the plot, in which Rick and Lou witness a break-in homicide that occurs before police even arrive. Lou enters the house and captures footage from the entire house before the police get there, and sells it to the news station. The story becomes a huge sensation, leading Lou to greater heights. But that’s still not enough for him. He has to finish the story. So he gets Rick to join him in actually following the murderers and tracking them before calling police, and setting up a potential shoot out.
The climax of this film is one of the most intense endings I’ve seen in a long time. It is on par with the level of suspense as “The French Connection”, and it’s refreshing to see a “car chase” that actually feels like you are along for the ride.
While you have to suspend disbelief in following Lou’s exploits (how does he never get pulled over for speeding or get in trouble with the law for impeding on their crime scenes?), Gilroy is not interested in the legality of what Bloom does.
In fact, what Gilroy may even be saying is…that’s what news is. It breaks the law, the boundaries, in order to shock you and entertain you. Because ultimately that’s what news is. It is not reality. Not completely. Because it’s not truly honest. And Bloom is the perfect representation of that. He will go to any length, sacrifice any moral path or sensibility to get what he wants. And what are his consequences?
Well, we get the story. We get the blood and gore and sad and tragic “truth” of the world. But while we see what he shows us and are shocked by the murders, we can’t be any less shocked at what lengths he goes through to get that footage of these horrible crimes. He is the ultimate media darling.
And that’s Gilroy’s ultimate message, and that’s why this is a very strong film. He knows what story he wants to tell and tells it concisely, pulling no punches, and leaving us breathless.
It’s something Lou Bloom would be proud of, if not for being caught in the headlights while he witnesses it.