Owning the night

A “Nightcrawler” is a news media member who retrieves footage of crime scenes for the morning news. It’s a cutthroat business, with several freelancers and police scanners all rushing to crime scenes to get the best footage. The film “Nightcrawler” from director Dan Gilroy is about the corrupt, neurotic nightcrawler Louis Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The film provides a look at Lou and the lengths to which he’s willing to go in order to be successful. His journey up the ladder of news media offers a fresh and honest look at the realities in the business.

Armed with a police scanner and a camcorder, Lou documents the violent crime of Los Angeles with his assistant Rick Garcia, who plays himself by name. Lou is a thief, stealing and selling whatever he can, and he hires the sketchy Rick on pretty shady terms. Lou says he has no formal education, but has learned a lot through “the internet,” and doesn’t give off the vibe of an unintelligent person. He’s well spoken, articulate, but weirdly cold in his delivery, like every conversation he has is a job interview. Considering his work ethic and determination for success, it’s not out of the realms to believe that this is simply how he views human interaction. He’s not interested in conversing with those who can’t further his career.

If viewers are going to take away anything from “Nightcrawler,” it’s that news media is awful and corrupt from the bottom up. The film illustrates how individuals in show business are willing to do anything to forward their careers. When Nina (Rene Russo), the manager working the graveyard at a local news station, asks if they can even use the footage that Lou gives her, her manager replies “You mean morally or legally?” Lou learns early in the business “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning that crime, specifically against suburban families, is what people want to see. Fear brings ratings, which drives Lou to start tampering with crime scenes in order to get that perfect shot. While stealing scrap metal he is confronted by security guard, whom he promptly beats up to get his watch. The watch is worn throughout the film and is often the subject of several shots, its shiny reflection reminding the audience of Lou’s heinous behavior. This sort of detail elevates the meaning of the film, and draws viewers in by characterizing Lou not only through his words, but also his actions.

There is a motif in the film of negotiation as the characters are constantly discussing prices with one another. It creates interesting suspense, because as the film progresses, the numbers behind these negotiations grow higher and higher. Lou is cold and calculating, and his approach to business is so neurotic and misanthropic that it seems as though he took business classes led by a serial killer. He knows right off the bat what he wants and exactly how he arrived at that number, and when people try to negotiate against him, his true colors show; he’s willing to do anything to get what he thinks he deserves. Jake Gyllenhaal gives such a stellar performance of this character and his sickly, nerdy appearance with his bugged-eyed stare, making him the perfect anti-hero.

It’s always fun to watch a movie with no clear protagonists or antagonists, and it works especially well in this case because it reflects the seediness of L.A. show business. Speaking of Los Angeles, the scenery in the film is beautiful, and the cinematography gives a great atmosphere of the city at night. The city is still bustling, neon signs and street lamps still manage to make the world vibrant and colorful even in the absence of sunlight. There was kind of a cheesy montage in the middle that kind of took me out of the experience, which was meant to illustrate Lou quickly rising through the business. There could have been a much better way of showing this; in fact they could cut it out completely, and the point would have gotten across simply by how much his equipment had advanced. A few moments of obvious product placement also took me out of the moment. It’s quite jarring to see flashes of big name brands during some of the movie’s most tense moments. The filmmakers could have done this in a more subtle way, without shoving logos in my face and removing me from the film’s world.

As the film comes to a climax, Lou’s character has also come to a climax. The stakes are at their highest, and the audience develops their full understanding of him and his complex motivations. In the moments before the film’s most action-packed moment, Lou’s character arc completes and we learn what happens when someone tries to use his negotiation skills against him. It only makes sense for the seediness of the characters to come to a peak in synchronization with the film, tying the themes directly to the narrative and enhancing its message without ever beating it over the audiences’ head. “Nightcrawler” provides a thrilling experience and brilliant character study by someone who absolutely owns the role. The most honest look at L.A. you’ll see is through the eyes of a sociopath.