Good, but a few ethical issues linger
Evan Wheatley - wrote on 10/21/16
Local news stations live and die by the ratings. Whether it’s the royal wedding or a high-speed chase, reporters toil around the clock for the next big story that will increase the viewership and advertising revenue of their stations. When however, does the next big story cease to be news? “Nightcrawler” highlights the broad line between good journalism and morbid entertainment, and what can happen when that line is crossed.
Despite being credited as the film’s lead, there is no trace of Jake Gyllenhaal in “Nightcrawler.” Losing 30 pounds to play the part, Gyllenhaal immerses himself into the role of petty thief Lou Bloom both physically and psychologically.
From the opening shots of the film, you can tell that something is off about Bloom. After stealing chain links from a fence on private property, he assaults a security guard, delivers the stolen materials to a Los Angeles construction site and tries to sell himself as a potential employee to the site manager.
Noticing a car crash on his drive home, Bloom pulls over to investigate. Two freelance videographers arrive at the scene shortly after and film police officers pulling the driver from the burning wreckage. When asked by Bloom, one of the cameramen reveals that he and his partner drive around LA, filming anything and everything to sell to the news station that will pay the most. “If it bleeds it leads,” the cameraman tells him. Inspired by the encounter, Bloom pawns a stolen bicycle, purchases a camcorder and a police scanner and begins working as a stinger.
Bloom presents his first clip of footage to local TV news station director Nina Romina (Rene Russo), who describes her station’s newscast as, “a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” Bloom adheres to this ideology in his work, exposing his darker nature to the audience. Infatuated with his growing success, Bloom pushes every moral and legal boundary imaginable to get the perfect shot.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is enthralling. Despite the disturbing and sociopathic nature of his role, his character intrigues you. Bloom is passionate. Bloom is driven. Bloom is wickedly smart. He has an eerie charisma about him that seeps under your skin.
Rene Russo is also exceptional. Unlike Bloom, Romina fully comprehends the magnitude of her choices, sacrificing her morality for television ratings. When the thrills of Bloom’s nocturnal crusades are sucking you in, Kevin Rahm’s character, Frank Kruse, serves as the conscience to bring you back to reality. Despite his efforts, the concerns of the honest journalist sadly get swept under the rug by the prowess of Bloom and Romina.
The cinematography and editing by Robert Elswit and John Gilroy fuel the intensity of the acting. Whether Bloom is recruiting his partner Rick (Riz Ahmed) at a diner in the late afternoon or he is pursuing a high-speed car chase in the heat of the night, each scene is an exhilarating experience.
The film’s many shining qualities are only a testament to the thought-provoking script of Dan Gilroy.
The scenes and dialogue bring to mind recent events such as the shooting of reporter Allison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward in Virginia. In the shooting’s aftermath, there were news websites and stations that chose to run the footage from a video posted online by the shooter, which showed the victims being shot at close range. The ethicality of this has been questioned, as it shows little respect for the victims’ families. Sadly however, footage of this magnitude engages our morbid curiosity, and Gilroy explores this truth as the basis of Bloom and Romina’s actions in the film.
In a 2014 interview with LA Weekly, Gyllenhaal humorously remarks, “There is a Lou in all of us. I don’t know if that disturbs you!” While I think this is far from the case, our culture as a whole contributes considerably to the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality. Next time you see a brutal or disrespectful video, don’t support it. Don’t promote it. We can change the rating trends. We can rise above the culture.