By Ed Rampell
Although it is being released on Halloween, and despite its creepy title, writer/director Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler is not a slasher flick or a fantasy about supernatural creatures. It deals with something far more sinister than imaginary monsters: Contemporary journalism run amok in the digital age.
In what may be his best performance yet, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a wannabe freelance cameraman with the Joycean name of Lou Bloom. He is a sociopathic loner, his identity largely forged by the Internet (he’s prone to spouting clichés from online motivational speakers) who stumbles upon his métier: Scouring late night Los Angeles’ mean streets and canyons, scanning LAPD radio reports, so he and his trusty camera will be the first on the scene of a grisly accident or horrific crime for the local news where the maxim “if it bleeds it leads” rules—to the max.
Bloom’s nocturnal hunting and gathering—and his penchant for bending the rules in the name of breaking news—leads to his meteoric rise in the skewed, screwed and tattooed world of local television news. In the process Bloom strikes up an unlikely partnership with Nina Romina (Rene Russo), a TV veteran and honcho at an L.A. station who thrives on the ratings rise and competitive edge Bloom’s reportage garners her program in a highly cutthroat industry and market. For the nearly “over-the-hill,” desperate Nina, the ends justify newcomer Bloom’s means.
Plot spoiler alert: Bloom’s dubious methods, even when they include breaking and entering or tampering with an accident or crime scene, are unimportant to the ratings-driven Nina, who’s scrambling to keep her position. In the much younger Bloom, Nina finds her morally bankrupt soulmate. Just as court painters once only painted portraits of the high and mighty, in its most scathing critique of the news media Nightcrawler contends that ethnic and class biases are used to determine what is, and is not, deemed “worthy” of news coverage. Local politics and related matters that actually affect viewers’ lives get short shrift.
All this is not only journalistic malfeasance but a massive violation of citizens' rights.
London-born actor Riz Ahmed, who has appeared in a number of socially conscious films, including The Road to Guantanamo (2006), Four Lions (2010), and The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2012), depicts Rick, an unemployed, luckless Angelino who is an even bigger loser than Lou Bloom at the beginning of the movie. Lou hires Rick in order to mercilessly take advantage of him, taking him along on his nighttime expeditions, running an extra camera and a GPS device for chump change.
Nightcrawler is a breathtaking movie that raises important questions about the nature of twenty-first century news media. A modern day morality play, it joins the ranks of great Hollywood movies about journalism, including Sweet Smell of Success (1957), All the President’s Men, Network (1976) Reds (1981), and Wrong is Right (1982), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005).
The newsroom never looked so scary.