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Tuesday, 4 November 2014


Jake Gyllenhaal is Nightcrawler. He is the nightcrawler of the title, but he is also Nightcrawler, the film. He utterly dominates the movie, he is in every scene, the whole enterprise revolves around him and his character, Lou Bloom.

It is just as well, then, that he is mesmerizing in this, utterly believable. Lou Bloom is a petty thief with higher aspirations, he thinks nothing of mugging people and robbing bicycles, but he wants more, he wants a job, a purpose, he wants more.

One night while driving around Los Angeles he comes across a car accident, which is being filmed by an independent film crew which then sells the footage on to TV stations for their morning news. These are the nightcrawlers of the title. Lou gets himself a video camera, and starts trawling the streets of LA at night, searching for something to film and sell.

Lou's utter lack of compassion and empathy, it turns out, makes him very good at his new profession. He thinks nothing of getting to an accident scene before the emergency services, and then dragging a dead body into a more convenient location so that it is easier to film and gives a better shot.

He begins selling his videos to Renee Russo's character, Nina, who works as news director in a TV news station that is struggling with ratings. She sees in Lou a kind of kindred spirit, someone who is indifferent to questions of morality and ethics, someone who, like her, is only interested in appealing to the baser elements of human nature.

At first we are at least partly pulling for Lou. He appears enthusiastic and only wants to better himself. He has ambition and a project, and just wants a chance. But his sociopathic tendencies emerge as the film goes on, and this sympathy slowly wanes.

One weakness the movie has is that it has a Message. And this Message slowly becomes apparent through the characters of Lou and Nina. It is clear that it is at least partly a social commentary on sensationalist media, on TV news that is happy to exploit human misery for its own ends.

At one stage Nina asks her assistant if they can show a particularly gruesome piece of footage of a murder. The assistant asks "You mean legally?" Nina replies, sarcastically, contemptuously, "No, morally. Of course I mean legally." The implication is that morality plays no part in their decisions, the bottom line is whether it will shock, whether it will attract viewers. The bodies they film and show are pieces of meat, the wrecked lives are an irrelevance in their quest to draw in as many viewers as possible.

And this Message is a little heavy-handed, at times. There are parts of the movie that make it seem like the characters are simply vehicles for this message, those, like Lou and Nina, who put ratings above all else, and other minor characters, such as Rick, Lou's employee, and the voice of reason, who raise objections to his ever-more extreme tactics.

Yet for all that, it is a powerful, compelling piece of film-making. The visual power of Los Angeles at night is a key element in the feeling of the movie, and the whole thing is atmospheric and tense, with a hypnotic central performance from Jake Gyllenhaal.  

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