Box Office Democracy: “Nightcrawler”
It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to a movie as cold as I did for Nightcrawler. I hadn’t seen a trailer or even had it described to me. I think I’d seen a poster but it wasn’t terribly clear what kind of movie I was getting in to even as the lights went down. What I got was a film that was remarkably gripping and deeply affecting, a portrait of a remarkably disturbing individual, and a scathing indictment of the TV news business.
Jake Gyllenhaal is doing his best work since Brokeback Mountain here and maybe in his entire career. Lou Bloom feels like a sociopath who has read every pop-business book to grace the non-fiction bestseller list in the past ten years. That isn’t close to a good enough description but it’ll have to suffice because the performance really needs to be seen to be believed. He radiates menace while scarcely ever doing anything or raising his voice. He’s a bad feeling given physical form; he’s a demon of mundanity.
Bloom, this thoroughly unpleasant person, is inspired by a horrible accident he sees on the freeway to transition from being a petty criminal to being a freelance video journalist. His complete lack of interest in following the rules of his trade or basic human decency makes quickly makes him very good at this job and he quickly begins drawing more people in to his sphere of quiet destruction including a homeless boy who becomes his “intern” (Riz Ahmed) and the news director of a struggling TV station that definitely is not KTLA (Rene Russo).
For a movie that is so focused on the idea of properly documenting horrible things I was fascinated by how many things happen off camera. There are a couple uncomfortable scenes in which Lou Bloom blackmails Nina the news director in to having a physical relationship with him in exchange for continued access to his footage that will likely save her job. Some time later in a negotiation over a particularly grisly piece of tape he drops an off handed line about her not doing things he requests when they’re in her apartment. The film quickly moves on, but that line blew my mind. They never focus on their personal relationship after the blackmail scene but it must be going on in the background the whole time. Perhaps it was just cut for time or because it felt like gilding the lily on how creepy it is but I hope for something more interesting. I hope it was omitted because no matter how disturbing they made a scene of Bloom and Nina having strange coercive sex there would have been some percentage of the audience that would be silently cheering Lou on in that moment. By removing that they remove the temptation for the audience to cheer for the monster.
This might be a paragraph that only speaks to Angelenos but I was terribly struck by how much Nightcrawler felt like a dark mirror of Drive. They share a visual language by being set in the parts of LA that movies are not usually set it in, the parts of LA that me and my friends live in. The central characters are both violent men hiding under a socially acceptable veneer. They’re also both heavily informed by the sense of loneliness that lurks beneath the surface of Los Angeles. No matter how popular or how good a support network you have it’s just the nature of such a big disconnected place. I wonder if I love Gosling in Drive just because he’s more attractive and we see him do violence against bad guys whereas Gyllenhaal is playing the same man just 10% creepier. It’s hard to know.