Nightcrawler (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Nightcrawler (2014)

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Lou is tired of scouring the night for scraps to make his way in life.  After witnessing a night television crew film a car accident, Lou starts to think he could do the same - but better.  Dan Gilroy, a screenwriter for many years, steps behind the camera for the first time in Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

You're part of my business modelWatching Nightcrawler, I found my thoughts drifting back to P.T. Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood quite often.  Both films star a character who is willing to go to whatever lengths are necessary to secure his fortune through an alarmingly direct style coached in charm and both films drench their scenarios in dark comedy that is as funny as it is chilling.  Daniel Plainview, as played by Daniel Day-Lewis, was a monster of the past, a grim specter of Capitalism's beginnings, and an alluring tumor to America.

But Nightcrawler's Lou Bloom is a new strain of that disease.  Lou does not need to flex charm outside of zeroing in on what potential customers want and what Lou can sell them, nor does he need to have the same considerations for the survival of his customers that peddlers of the past did.  In fact, the more fresh the corpse is the better chance Lou has of getting paid.  He's a product of a new market, one whose audience has no interest in learning about the person who produces the product they consume, leaving Lou free to produce by any means necessary.

Lou is Nightcrawler's subject, and one that creator Dan Gilroy and Jake Gyllenhaal understand down to his amoral core.  Gilroy and Gyllenhaal find that underneath all the slime and opportunism Lou still has qualities that we can admire.  Then they take things a step further and show that it's only because of Lou's precise application of those positive qualities that he becomes the monster he is.  The devil of Nightcrawler does not earn our sympathy, nor does he ask for it, but attains an almost sublime status.  We know that if Lou so wanted he could crush anyone, but he would make it look gorgeous every step of the way.

Almost every shot of the film has a bit of media imprisoning the characters in parts of the frame.

Almost every shot of the film has a bit of media imprisoning the characters in parts of the frame.

I was smitten with Nightcrawler the moment I saw the teaser that featured Gyllenhaal growing increasingly unhinged while he talks about the merits of work and lottery tickets.  But the intensity he showed in that brief snippet does not even start to do justice to the depths of his performance here.  Far from being one note, Gyllenhaal makes Lou a creature prone to intense study, carefully deployed charm, minimal grooming, and blunt honesty.  Lou has no resting state as he believes that everything he encounters in his life is a learning opportunity to advance his business.  To communicate this, Gyllenhaal makes himself gaunt not to the point of starvation, but just so thin that Lou's stare is where our gaze is drawn to on his body.

Gyllenhaal does not bark out his lines to show focus, but recites them as though everything he has done in life has prepared him for this moment that he is speaking.  There is no nervousness in Gyllenhaal's tone, just the command of someone who has something to say and now is the time to listen.  If Lou isn't moving, he's studying.  If he's engaging in any physical activity it's just enough to get a scene to look like he wants it to.  Then when he does get angry it's almost a wonder, born of Lou's deep frustration with himself and others, and leaves him a slave to his rage.  These carefully deployed qualities, combined with Gyllenhaal's careful physical makeup of Lou, make Gyllenhaal's performance far and away the best of his career and I'm sure we'll be hearing more about it in the coming months.

But Gilroy is not content to let Nightcrawler rest on just Gyllenhaal's performance.  While we're with Lou the entire run-time of the film, the other character's reflect different dimensions of his rotten core.  Riz Ahmed plays Lou's Indian partner, Rick, a good man whose reluctance to fully commit to the job reminds us that Lou's line of business preys on public perception of minorities as vampires on the good white people of America when the reverse is the truth.  Some might find the lines of dialogue discussing this blunt, but after a year of headlines demonizing innocent protestors, I found all Lou and Rick's interactions refreshingly direct and honest.  Rene Russo, as Nina, also does her career-best work as a woman who's tired of putting up the same face for a business that wants to rip her apart.  A mid-film dinner date between Lou and Nina sums up their positions with disarming black comedy, as she is working against her sex in a business that wants to exploit it, and he is evil enough to say this so directly without offering a different way to success.

Compositions are

Robert Elswit's compositions have a dark yearning to them - scenes of destruction looking for that one perfect piece to be complete.

Reading about Nightcrawler after the film I was surprised to find out that the P.T. Anderson comparison was not that far off as Robert Elswit,  Anderson's usual cinematographer, was D.P. for Nightcrawler.  Elswit's compositions are superb, and crackle with the same kind of dark energy as Gyllenhaal's Lou.  Many scenes are careful not to show any suffering without the addition of a diagetic camera, forcing us into Lou's perspective.  When we pull out it's in moments of bleak anticipation with compositions that show horrible events but there's always a little something missing - a body, usually - that completes the frame.  One aspect I loved is the way Gyllenhaal's performance and Elswit's cinematography interacted.  When Lou would find whatever prop he needs to make the scene perfect his face would light up with absolute joy.  It makes Nightcrawler about its cinematography as much as its characters, a basic function of film that's rarely used so perfectly.

All of this ties in with Gilroy's superb script which is structured to emphasize how horrible Lou is, but also that he's as much a product of the system as he is a manipulator of it.  Time and again Lou talks about opportunity and we see his quick mind at work while the unspoken question comes back to why Lou exploits misery instead of finding a job.  In each exchange of Nightcrawler we get another piece of the answer: because media still exists to exploit minorities for ignorant Americans,  because exploiting misery is a job, because Lou can make more money with one violation of someone's basic human rights than he can by getting a job at a construction yard, and because it's quicker for him to use his laser focus to manipulate everyone in his way instead of playing by the rules.  Authorities are ostensibly there to make sure people like Lou stay in-line, but it doesn't matter in the long run.

The Lou's of the world succeed because there's a market for the trash they peddle and, so long as the public is afraid and intoxicated by the misery of others, people like Lou will have a place in our lives.  After all, he's just an ambitious man doing what he needs to get ahead in this crazy world.  Who are we to judge if we're thrilled by the noxious ideology he embraces?

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Tail - NightcrawlerNightcrawler (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Dan Gilroy.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal.

Posted by Andrew

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