Nightcrawler written and directed by Dan Gilroy (Bold Films, Open Road Productions, R, 117 min)
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Bill Paxton, Rene Russo, and Riz Ahmed.
Moore’s law represents a problem for narrative of any kind. This term denotes the trend where computer hardware doubles every two years. Moore’s Law explains the constant feeling that your technology is outdated, especially if it’s over two years old.
While this phenomenon equates to profitable businesses—there is, after all, a consistent need for updated toys, Moore’s Law means that any story developed over two years ago faces potential problems if it attempts to set itself in present day.
I would even venture a filmmaker would much rather shoot scenes based on eras long since passed, rather than emulate the trends and techniques of life even a half decade ago.
Nightcrawler’s fatal flaw exists within this milieu.
Set in the present day, Nightcrawler is the story of a miscreant, Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). A crawler of the night (see what I did there?), Lou takes advantage of anything and everything to scrape by. Prone to stealing materials from construction sites to resell to construction companies, Lou longs for steady and consistent work.
A late night accident on the freeway, however, sparks some interest about a particular career path, especially when Lou observes a freelance crew of cameramen, led by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) shoot the grisly carnage.
Inspired by the possibilities, Lou pawns a stolen bicycle for a camcorder and police scanner and begins the hunt that very next night, shooting the remnants of a carjacking and selling the footage to a news director, Nina (Rene Russo) at a local news station.
Complimenting Lou’s aesthetic and framing, Nina encourages Lou to keep going, admitting the station is most interested in violent altercations in well-off communities around the city.
With Rick (Riz Ahmed), a hired hand as an assistant, Lou seeks the blood and gore of incidents after dark, consistently upping the ante to the point where legality becomes a question.
A Lost Art
Even though Gyllenhaal offers a masterful performance of an oddball with a constant rictus, even with a suspenseful and engaging plot, Nightcrawler falls short because of its context.
Let’s face it, professional video footage of breaking news is quickly become a lost art. Pay close attention to news coverage and you’ll see most footage these days comes at the high cost of free. Meaning, social media has crowdsourced video of current events. Why would a news station spend any money when it can pull a video from Twitter with a citation of the user’s handle?
Nightcrawler asks interesting questions about the moral ambiguity of news coverage. Facets of truth trickle out the pores of this film regarding the vicarious and sensationalized nature of news. Ratings suggest the viewer wants to see bloodshed and missing persons, not video essays on the current economic climate.
But I can’t help but feel like this film might have been better suited as a “period” piece. Set Nightcrawler in the 1980s and the film jumps a full point in my book. Still an interesting watch.
Verdict: 3 out of 5