CRIME CULTURE: Many parts of Nightcrawler sicken the viewer and act as a warning on some of the most disturbing aspects of the media and humanity, however large segments of the film also speak to the ethos of this very website and burgeoning independent media. True Crime News Weekly publisher, Serkan Ozturk, explains why this 2014 gem of a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo will be seen as a crime classic for years to come.
It’s a creepy modern-day media satire and crime-action thriller in one. Where the lines of respectability, ethics and status begin to blur wherever there is a quick buck to be made. Some make it out. Some don’t. And the ones that do – well, they’re usually the scumbags willing to sell out their mother (or, colleague) to get where they want.
Welcome to the world of Nightcrawler. A rag-to-riches tale with a dark soul that drives across the decaying, wide roads of greater Los Angeles with a noirish heart as 1980s synths ominously propel the musical score.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom – a sinewy and demented two-bit thug surviving on the edges of capitalism in a fading urban centre. Eyes permanently on bulge, Lou is seemingly always on the lookout for the next easy mark.
His first significant act is to bash a security guard at a lonely lot for his gold watch. There is a continuing motif throughout the film of violence and exploitation being rewarded by monetary and social means. As long as they get their cut many are willing to play along. But at what cost?
Lou’s rapid rise through the pit of human hierarchy begins after he comes across a horrific traffic accident late at night on his way home.
A team of stringers – freelance videojournalists and cameramen – led by the late and great character actor, Bill Paxton, is busy shooting scenes of police officers pulling a woman from the wreckage. Lou is told they sell their footage to media networks hungry for breaking news – the more explosive or violent the better.
It’s work that speaks to Lou’s soul. He steals a bike, and pawns it for a police scanner and cheap camera gear. Unemployment and people’s desperation for a legitimate living and sustainable income are themes returned to again and again in what could be considered to be a sly rebuke of the 21st century casualisation of the economy.
Eventually, Lou’s in-your-face gonzo style of capturing car crashes and murders finds its home with KWLA 6. A struggling local tv network heavily reliant on crime stories to increase its fledgling ratings. Its desperate news director, Nina Romina played by Rene Russo, is eventually forced into a Faustian deal with Lou. As he gains greater power in their relationship, he reminds her “I told you I’m a fast learner.”
For all his horribleness, Lou does though represent a realistic cipher of how modern media networks are increasingly reliant on a greater army of poorly paid and even lesser respected freelancers. It’s why Lou becomes an anti-hero, not just a criminal psychopath. Unlike most freelancers or contract workers, he twists the rules of the game and he wins. It’s for similar reasons why True Crime News Weekly came into being.
The film’s critical moment comes about three-quarters in where Lou is sitting in a car with his underpaid and naive assistant, Rick.
“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them?” Lou tells Rick after it’s suggested his social skills are a bit lacking.
“What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.”
Gyllenhaal is quite simply superb in his menacing depiction of a skinny geek in a white shirt which hides the heart of a demon.
He is one of America’s finest actors and has shown that with his choice of roles over the past five years.
The most memorable performance however perhaps belongs to British-Pakistani actor and rapper, Riz Ahmed.
His portrayal of Rick as an ‘everyman’ drifter put in a position way above his head is chilling until the very end.
With a budget of only about US$8 million, writer and director Dan Gilroy can be assured the film’s importance and impact will only grow with time.
Nightcrawler received a Best Original Screenplay nomination at the 2015 Academy Awards.