Sunday, November 29, 2015

Nightcrawler (2014) ****

What would you do to get what you want? For Louis Bloom, the answer is, “Absolutely anything.” Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou as a well-spoken, oily sociopath with no compunctions whatsoever. When we meet Lou, he is a low-life of indeterminate age, stealing scrap metal and hustling unsuccessfully to find a job. When he happens upon a flaming car-wreck, he sees a couple of guys filming the gore, and he learns about the world of freelance, TV news gathering. Lou scores himself a camcorder and a police scanner and starts hustling to the scenes of car wrecks and shootings to get footage that can be sold to the TV stations. It turns out that Lou has a talent for this sort of thing. With absolutely no scruples, he is willing to crowd paramedics, cross police lines, and sneak into houses to get the best footage. Lou gets so good at his trade that he starts beating the police to some of the scenes, and he starts down an increasingly darker path. First, he re-arranges things a little to frame a shot better. From there, the line between filming the news and creating the news starts to blur.

With his slicked-back hair and gaunt features, Gyllenhaal's Lou is a dead-ringer for Robert De Niro's character in “Cape Fear,” and just as sociopathic. Lou is articulate and driven, and it's rather a mystery why he is unemployed at the beginning of the film. We are given no background on the character, so we are left to assume that previous employers were as repulsed as we are by his sleaziness. Rene Russo's TV news director, Nina, isn't bothered by the sleaziness at all. She is a more polished version of Lou, willing to air anything, no matter how lurid, that will attract viewers. As she tells Louis, “Think of our news coverage as a screaming woman running down the street, with her throat slit.” Lou and Nina are a perfect match, and together they give viewers all the carnage they can handle. Like those “Parental Advisory” stickers that used to make records so attractive to teenagers, the news anchors' warnings that their footage “will be disturbing to some viewers” guarantee that no one will change the channel.

It took me a while to get around to watching “Nightcrawler” for some reason. I'm not sure what I thought it would be, but what it is is a tightly-crafted, modern Noir. The film explores the consequences of the public's thirst for increasingly graphic, violent content. Whatever the public demands, there will always be someone out there willing to get it for them.

4 stars out of 5

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