Film Review: Nightcrawler

by Mark Woodhouse

Rated MA15+. Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo. Directed by Dan Gilroy.

How much damage can one man do with a video camera?

Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is jobless, desperate, and highly motivated to succeed. Very. Highly. Motivated. One night, he comes across a car accident, and sees someone filming it. The film, he learns, will be sold to a news company and aired on the morning news. Thus is born Lou’s career as a nightcrawler. He builds his business cashing in on bloody accidents and gruesome crimes, selling his videos to Nina Romina (Russo), the news director of a struggling local TV station. Lou will do anything to build his business, and it works.

Lou Bloom is a very unlikeable character. It’s a brave move making a film about someone the audience will not like, but Nightcrawler has done it, and done it well.

Lou has no backstory, no interpersonal skills, no job, no morals. All his personal interaction is awkward and uncomfortable. He lectures his ‘employee’ Rick (Riz Ahmed) on best business practice, but it sounds rote-learned from a bad 80’s corporate how-to guide.

He wants social interaction, but doesn’t like anyone. He wants company, but can’t relate to anyone. He longs for a relationship, but he can’t love anyone. He can only manipulate, state facts, threaten and rely on his crazy eyes to get his way, and his only friend in the film is a plant whom he dutifully waters throughout the film.

Jake Gyllenhaal is excellent as Lou Bloom. He lost over 10kg for the part, giving him a gaunt, creepy look. We see Lou blink only 4 times in the entire film, meaning every stare is unnervingly intense. He holds in his emotion, laughing off any insult or uncomfortable moment until things really aren’t going his way. I found it fascinating watching this character, though I wanted to hold him at arm’s length and watch only from a distance.

Lou’s weaknesses seem to turn to strengths in the world of nightcrawling. His ruthlessness gets him ahead. His ambition sees him going to extraordinary lengths to get the best shots and, thus, the best price (and a cooler car).

The film is beautifully made and very dark (“it IS called Nightcrawler…”). The camera angles and framing brilliantly mimic the handheld cameras with which Lou and Rick make their cash. You feel the movement, you feel the importance of the camera.

Lou’s videos blur the line between journalism and sadistic voyeurism. The viewers don’t want dry political debate. They want to see crimes committed against people like them by people unlike them, and they want to experience the vicarious horror on the morning news as they eat their breakfast.

So the film asks a number of thought-provoking and probing social questions, but gives us no answers. The ethics of news, of entertainment, of business, negotiation, personal interaction, personal ambition – all these ethical questions are front and centre.

Lou’s ethics are determined by his goals. He wants success in business, and so will do anything to get success in business. He wants a relationship, so will do anything to get a relationship. Lou’s behaviour is focused on himself.

The ethics we find in the Bible are also determined by goals. But they’re not the goals of a sociopathic nightcrawler. They’re the goals of the creator God, who created this world for a purpose and moves this world irrevocably towards that purpose.

This means Christian behaviour is focused not on ourselves, for we are not the goal of this world.

The goal of this world is Christ, through whom and for whom all things were created (Colossians 1:16). Christian behaviour is focused on Christ.

Nightcrawler is thought-provoking, creepy, compelling and shocking. Lou Bloom is fascinating, worrying, and brilliantly portrayed. Four stars.

Nightcrawler will be released in Australia on November 27. It is currently screening in the US and the UK.

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