The inaugural directorial effort of The Bourne Legacy (2012) screenwriter Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler (2014) is a nocturnal exploration of media sensationalism and the individualistic entrepreneurialism that is so often perceived as an attainable escape route from social inequality. Boasting a noteworthy performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, Gilroy’s debut finds itself lost in an inescapable maze of sound and rhythm, colours and lights, as it attempts to navigate the fine line between taste and morals. The American actor stars as Lou Bloom, a driven young man desperate to carve out a professional niche for himself in today’s incredibly competitive world.
After a stint wheeling and dealing in scrap metal, Lou finds the perfect career for an enthusiastic businessman lacking in social etiquette – a freelance cameraman for the local news. Equipped with a police radio scanner and a cheap digital camcorder, Lou takes to the streets of Los Angeles, hoping to capture that elusive footage of a hideous car accidents or violent mugging. As an ambulance chaser with a proclivity towards online business courses and motivational speeches Lou manages to muscle his way into this poignantly cutthroat business. However, it’s Lou’s exquisite eye for composition and understanding of the profession’s motto “If it bleeds it leads” that sees him turn human misery into dollar notes. Unquestionably, Nightcrawler is well and truly Gyllenhaal’s film from start to finish.
His sophomore venture into producing, you can see why Gyllenhaal would want to make the film’s memorable leading role his own. The feral child of a neo-liberal world that fails to see the delineation between journalistic integrity and the ethics of decency, Lou is a psychopath that stalks the margins of social acceptability. Ostensibly a serial killer with a predilection for success rather than masochism, Lou is an incredibly endearing anti-hero in a cinematic landscape of imitative sociopaths. Gyllenhaal barely blinks more than twice throughout the whole film, his jaw shuddering imperceptibly behind a fallacious smile, echoing the intensity of his eyes and fashioning the perfect Patrick Bateman for a world where the media-savvy sycophant has supplanted the invidious consumer as society’s prevailing brand of psychopath.
During a rare dinner date, Lou illuminates us as to how the city’s political news and current affairs are condensed into 22 seconds of airtime whilst the death of an affluent white man receives 15 minutes. However, behind the film’s larger than life protagonist there’s sadly very little subtext to this media satire other than the limp motive pushing Lou’s increasing thirst for amoral behaviour. Exposing the falsity of media reporting and the perceived, yet imaginary presence of a meritocracy at a time of an exponentially expanding wealth gap, the aphorisms scattered throughout the film allude to a larger truth. Sadly, the film’s inability to empower these feeble social stabs with any authenticity or depth of investigation leaves events feeling flat and forgettable. Spiralling headfirst into a generic, yet highly enjoyable thriller, Nightcrawler eventually encloses itself entirely within Gilroy’s hermetically sealed world of obdurately refined characters and tired cynicism. It’s a world we’re all too familiar with, yet one that’s hard not to become distracted by.
Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble