Movie review: Nightcrawler

For an artist, Nightcrawler is a fascinating movie. Nightcrawler, released in 2014 and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, is about a bottom feeder, Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal), who discovers the world of crime scene photo-journalism.

Bloom, armed with an internet account and google, is an autodidact who envisions himself an entrepreneur. As the movie opens, Bloom uses his ‘entrepreneurial chops’ to steal scrap metal and sell it to foundries and machine shops. At one client, Bloom launches into a well-rehearsed pitch for a job, describing himself as a ‘self-motivated go-getter.’ He’s turned down because the client “doesn’t hire thieves.”  Duh.

The movie pivots when Bloom happens on a fresh car wreck. He’s fascinated when freelance video journalists arrive and tape the tableau of human misery with the avidity of jackals. The ‘journalists’ race into the night to sell their tapes before their competitors. This single incident opens a new world to Bloom; the world of Nightcrawlers, the freelance journalists who prowl the night in search of crime scenes and accidents. Not only does nightcrawling lead to big bucks, as he soon learns for himself, it provides the intoxicating thrill of seeing his work, his ‘art,’ on television.

Soon Bloom and his single factotum (Bloom’s ‘production company’) spend each night racing through Los Angeles led by the ever-present police scanner looking for newsworthy events. Exploiting human misery is ‘news’ for the local network affiliates. Happily the movie does a good job of depicting scenes of tragedy without deteriorating into gore porn.

Bloom discovers he has a good eye and quickly develops his talents. Not only is he faster than the competition, his artistic sensibilities give him a decided edge; he knows how to get the telling shot–the good stuff. Soon his work is in steady demand.

Another important pivot occurs when Bloom rearranges a crime scene for a better shot. At this point, the movie turns darker.

Gyllenhaal is a skilled actor and his portrayal of a driven entrepreneur is believable–creepy but believable. Unfortunately, the entrepreneurial story arc is irrelevant and adds nothing to the plot. The Gyllenhaal character could just have easily been a lazy sod looking for easy money. Bloom’s bottom-feeder ethics are perfectly mirrored by the station managers’, but if the movie’s author, Dan Gilroy, intended a takedown of the corporate world–or the media world–he misfired.

The movie starts dark and darkens throughout but its ending is nonetheless unexpected.

For artists watching this otherwise forgettable movie, the nightcrawler’s camera is the star. As Bloom develops as an artist he is less passive and becomes careful to frame his shots and get the right angles. He begins to interject himself in the scenes he’s filming. Not much more can be said without giving away important plot elements. The film revolves around the line between passive observer and active participant. This bright line runs through the whole of modern art down to today, of course.  For an artist, as I said, Nightcrawler is a fascinating movie.

3 stars out of 5.

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