by ALEX CARNEVALE
dir. Dan Gilroy
Did you know the cause of everything bad that has ever happened in human history was the media? When the black plague broke out, Channel 7 News was on the scene. One of their cameramen got affected and showed up at a Wendy’s in Bruges and a lot of people got really sick.
Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) looks like a pug flattened by a tire. Modifying his body for roles is all JG cares about now. On a smaller frame his face looks even more cartoonish; he could believably play Bugs Bunny. Nightcrawler, the directorial debut of Rene Russo’s swarthy husband Dan Gilroy, rests entirely on his performance.
Gyllenhaal is at his best when he stops modulating his voice like a Muppet. When he gives over to the effect in this movie, which concerns the filming of car accidents and other crimes for local news broadcasts, he sounds like the demon love spawn of Olaf and Travis Bickle. He is having so much fun that Nightcrawler turns into a spastic comedy where you can’t wait to see what this too-thin sleeve of a man does next.
I recently rewatched Taxi Driver. Jodie Foster looks like a trembling gerbil; I couldn’t understand why Cybill Shepherd never became the biggest star in the world. The novelty of the lone crazed psycho has sort of worn off – you couldn’t surprise people by showing the level of one man’s unhappiness anymore. Besides, he’s a man: why is he unhappy?
Gyllenhaal’s Bloom is actually the polar opposite of that. He finds a secret pleasure in everything. In Nightcrawler‘s climatic scene, he follows a pair of homicidal drug dealers in their car and films one of them being shot to death. Throughout he has a disturbed smile on his face, because he is able to distance himself from events. It was sad to watch Travis Bickle, but when it comes to Bloom, you can’t help but be a bit happy he has found something that he enjoys.
You’ll be shocked to learn Nightcrawler suggests that there is something macabre and wrong about this entire business. In order to keep getting the kind of quality footage that anchors an evening newscast, Nina (Rene Russo) agrees to sleep with Lou.
Nina doesn’t do everything he asks in the bedroom, but she does perform most of it. The reason she does it is because higher ratings allows her to keep her job at the station. Somehow this bit of misogynistic cynicism is glossed over because Gilroy quickly cuts to his bread and butter: Jake’s being creepy again, look!
At some point during the not-especially meaningful montages of cable wires running up house, broadcasting relevant news information, I actually wished he would leave these poor journalists alone. Some of Nina’s coworkers are reluctant to show Lou’s more graphic footage, which is kind of like leaving a little fluid at the bottom of a tiny juice-box. Just finish it.
There isn’t anything in the way of grey area in Nightcrawler, rendering the fallout from Lou’s all-nighters somewhat predictable. Surely there must be greater villains than the people producing this stuff, but if you watched Nightcrawler or anything by David Fincher, you would not know it. Although there is a rumor that David Muir killed a guy.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
“The Driver (crossfaded version)” – Bastille (mp3)
“Fall Into Your Arms (crossfaded version)” – Bastille vs. The Gemma Sharples Quartet (mp3)