Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Dir. Dan Gilroy

4 out of 5

Don't get me wrong.  Nightcrawler is a fine film: mesmerizing, tense, and disturbing.  But titling it as such might do a disservice to grubs.  Its principal subject, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is an abhorrent antisocial creep, a small-time thief who chances upon the world of freelance news videography, chasing ambulances and filming human torment to sell to local television stations.  But what makes Lou so despicable isn't his vulgar opportunism - it's his false sincerity masking the emptiness of the frighteningly Busey-esque platitudes (in Lou's world, "fear" stands for "false evidence appearing real") and regurgitated self-help advice that is a poor substitute for a real moral philosophy.

And yet like Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, Lou is a bad apple made worse by a rotten system.  Nightcrawler is many things - a study in quiet menace, a sultry LA-after-dark primer, a sordid tabloid-infused thriller - but ultimately it's the sharpest indictment of dog-eat-dog capitalist absurdity since American Psycho.  As Lou climbs the ranks of the insular world of guys who shoot the wreckage of daily life, he learns that not all accidents are created equal.  "If it bleeds, it leads" is still the rule, and almost no footage is too graphic, provided that the anchors give the audience fair warning.  Lou's warped worldview, however, drives him to use his blunted intellect like a ball-peen hammer, bullying the morning news director (Rene Russo) of a fledgling station and his own dimwitted assistant (Riz Ahmed) into positions that compromise their physical and emotional health.  Before long he's not just recording events, he's also manipulating them to serve his own purposes and fulfill the Darwinian narrative raging inside his head.

The film is a collaborative triumph for writer-director Dan Gilroy and Gyllenhaal; together they manifest one of the most memorable trolls in recent history.  It's not hard to imagine Lou as a Tea Partier, a GamerGater, or a truther, employing a cretinous rhetoric that's a  mix of desperation and entitlement, deep spiritual confusion and righteous determination.  Gyllenhaal abuses his natural adorability and sleepy basset hound eyes to sneak in more of Lou's ferocious tenacity and inherent soullessness, and Gilroy gives him the dangerously charismatic vocabulary of a first-class freak.  Nightcrawler isn't the most focused or original media satire, but it's a masterful portrait of skulduggery and it gleams with the pornographic beauty of Los Angeles at night.  And in that sunless electric oasis, Lou's just another person who can remain a stranger to the light, never having to acknowledge the darkness that's steadily enveloping him.

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