Saturday, November 29, 2014

'Nightcrawler' Review - Heavy Spoilage

Directed by DAN GILROY

Starring JAKE GYLLENHAAL, RENE RUSSO, RIZ AHMED, 
and BILL PAXTON

With a healthy serving of 'To Live and Die in L.A.,' a smidge of 'Network,' and a dash of 'Drive,' 'Nightcrawler,' draws you into the perverse underbelly of sensationalized news coverage. It's a brave effort and a brilliant critique of the American "news" culture, by first time director (and Rene Russo's husband), Dan Gilroy. If you've ever watched American news (both national and local), 'Nightcrawler' strikes a nerve. 'Nightcrawler' touches on the psychopathy of the 24-hour news cycle and...then some. It certainly doesn't hurt to have to great leads like Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo. Gyllenhaal does a good job channeling Christian Bale's Patrick Batemen from 'American Psycho,' while Russo channels Faye Dunaway's Diana Christenson from 'Network.' 

I SET HIGH GOALS 
and I've been told that I'm persistent
[Lou Bloom to Scrap Metal Yard Owner]

In a tour de force performance, Jake Gyllenhaal is Lou Bloom, a petty criminal with an ambitions streak, who uses violence when needed. Lou starts out stealing scrap metal and robbing security guards. When he asks for honest work at the scrap metal yard, the owner tells him that he doesn't hire thieves, which is slightly hypocritical, as the owner is still willing to buy from a thief. What's interesting about Lou is that he doesn't think of himself as a thief. Lou treats his thievery as a business. 

If it bleeds, it leads.
[Joe Loder to Lou Bloom]

Lou goes from one small score to another, barely scraping by, and living in a tiny and sparse apartment, until Lou sees a freelance camera crew led by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) videotape two police officers frantically try to free a woman from a burning car. Most people would be horrified to see someone videotaping this instead of trying to render assistance, but not Lou. Somehow Karma has fallen down on the job and Lou has found his calling.

WHY YOU PURSUE SOMETHING
is as important as what you pursue.
[Lou Bloom to Nina Romina]

 Lou's first few assignments don't go well. He doesn't know the police codes and his camera is not professional grade. He finally hits pay dirt with a fatal carjacking. He does things that other videographers don't (or won't do), he gets graphic closeups of the dead and dying. His lack of morality and willingness to do whatever it takes appeals to ruthless newswoman Nina Romina (Rene Russo). This is perhaps Russo's best work in years. 

THINK OF THE NEWS CAST AS A
screaming woman running down the street WITH HER THROAT CUT.
[Nina Romina to Lou Bloom]

Nina shows Lou the ropes, and tells him what her local news channel is looking for, which is "a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut." She also tells him plainly what sells and what doesn't. What sells is urban crime spilling over into the suburbs. If you can't read in between the lines, she says it in even plainer terms, white victims in white neighborhoods. Nina touches on something that I've long said, which is that local (and national) news loves to pump the public full of fear, anger, and pit some groups against others. Modern day news loves violence, scandal, and lacks a sense of decency-- just like Lou. 


Congratulations, you're hired.
[Lou Bloom to Rick]

At this Lou excels and develops enough business to hire Rick (Riz Ahmed), who is also down on his luck. So down on his luck that he responds to a job ad that doesn't specify what the job is. There's some inference that Rick has been prostituting himself up to this point. The audience never learns Lou background, but Lou looks like he hasn't had a good meal in a while and has suffered various abuses throughout his life. One would think that he would be nice to his new intern/friend, but the opposite proves true. Lou is downright cruel to Rick throughout the film, paying him a measly $30/day even when Lou is now making thousands and enough to upgrade his 1980s Toyota Corrola to a brand new bright red Ford Mustang. 
He's dead. Get the shot.
[Lou Bloom to Rick]

Loder at first pokes fun at Lou, but comes to respect him as a serious competitor for the freelance news junket. Loder offers Lou some friendly advice and tells him to upload his footage via ftp to the server. Continuing the conversation, Loder offers Lou a job on his second team, but instead of politely declining Lou rudely refuses. Loder tells Lou that with a second news team, his group will cover more of the city and will always be first on the scene, which causes Lou to lose it. 

YOU TOOK MY BARGAINING POWER. 
You used it against me.
[Lou Bloom to Rick]

In one of the few scenes in which the "true Lou" is revealed, Lou controls himself until he can safely flip out in front of his bathroom mirror. Lou has other plans and doesn't intend to be anyone's second fiddle. Instead of letting the cards fall where they may, Lou sabotages Loder's news van, which causes it to crash, sending Loder to the hospital in critical condition. Lou is there to film Loder as he grimaces in pain and anger. Rick reminds Lou that Loder is one of them, a nightcrawler, but Lou doesn't care. The news is merciless and so is he. Lou is not necessarily a violent sociopath, but he is a sociopath who can be violent. 

I WANT WHAT YOU PROMISED ME!
I want something people can't look away from! 
[Nina to Lou Bloom]

Lou's intentions for Nina are soon revealed when he threatens to take his footage elsewhere unless she goes on a date with him. Nina reminds Lou that she's his employer and she's also twice his age, none of which seems to faze Lou. Lou's coercion of Nina doesn't stop there. Lou is smarter than he looks and does his homework on her. Lou knows that Nina is near the end of her two-year contract. She's a former anchor woman, turned news director. She never seems to keep a job past the two-year mark. Now Nina is near the end of her two-year contract of the worst rated news station in the area. Nina doesn't have anywhere else to fall. Nina needs Lou's exclusive relationship with her station and Lou wants Nina. What Lou wants Lou gets. Lou manipulates Nina into a sexual relationship with him. They're both bottom feeders feeding off of each other.

I'M STARTING A TV NEWS BUSINESS. 
I film breaking stories.
[Lou Bloom to Rick]

The climax of the film occurs when Lou comes across an active home invasion before the police arrive. Lou records two armed men kill three people. He records their faces, their vehicle, and their license plate as they leave. Under the guise of "rendering assistance" he goes into the house and records the recently deceased and still dying victims. Nina's vulnerable position with the network causes her to dismiss the ethical considerations of other (reasonable) people on her team, and air the footage.

YOU SAT ON IT UNTIL YOU COULD GET
get something you could film.
[Detector Fronteiri to Lou Bloom]

Any decent person would immediately turn the footage over to the police so the murderers could be brought to justice, but Lou isn't decent. Lou takes his footage directly to an increasingly desperate Nina to show her his prize. He demands a large sum for the gut wrenching footage or he will take it elsewhere. He also demands that Nina continue to give herself to him sexually, that his new company be given production credit, and that he be introduced to the news crew (including the anchors). All of which Nina complies with. 
You've gotta call the cops.
[Lou Bloom to Rick]
When the police do get wise, Lou reluctantly turns over his footage (sans the parts identifying the killers). Why you ask? Well Lou has other plans. Lou follows the killers around until he can find a better venue in which to shoot the video of their capture. Lou doesn't care if other people get hurt or killed. Lou wants to collect the $50,000 reward and sell the footage of the inevitable shootout. The chase scene that ensues is probably one of the best scenes in the film. It was a pulse pounding chase scene similar to other muscle car/noir films like 'Drive' and 'Vanishing Point.'
WHAT IF MY PROBLEM WASN'T THAT I don't understand people but that I don't like them.
[Lou Bloom to Rick]
After months of living in a garage whilst living off of $30 a day, Rick demands and gets a modest raise. When Rick finds out Lou's plans to collect the reward money Rick objects for moral reasons, but later demands that Lou give him half of the proceeds. Feeling trapped by the same type of blackmail Lou wields so easily, Lou sends Rick into the line of fire purposely so that he is killed. In Lou's most heartless moment, Lou films Rick as he lays dying.
WHAT IF I WAS THE KIND OF PERSON who was obliged to hurt you? 
[Lou Bloom to Rick]

Of course Lou takes this footage to Nina who wants to air it. A savvy police detective (Michael Hyatt) is on to Lou. She confronts Nina to turn over the footage, but Nina refuses without a court order. Detective Fronteiri accuses Lou of what we know to be true, that he set up the arrest so that he could film it. Now three people are dead, and a police officer is in the hospital. Detective Fronteiri accuses Lou of murder, but can't prove it. The movie ends with Lou failing "upwards," as he steals Loder's idea of having two news crews. Unlike Loder, Lou staffs the news vans with unpaid interns. 

I THINK LOU IS INSPIRING ALL OF US 
to reach a little higher.
[Nina to the Frank Kruse]

Gyllenhaal lost 20 pounds to give Lou that "hungry" look. Gyllenhaal felt like Lou was "hungry" in more ways than one. With a 20 pound weight loss, Gyllenhaal makes Lou look slender and scummy. The weight loss also turned Gyllenhaal's slight bug eyes, into big bug eyes. There's a scene when Lou is degrading Rick that Gyllenhaal's eyes look huge and creepy. His facial expressions almost look non-human. I've always liked Gyllenhaal, but some of his commercial roles ('Prince of Persia') have put me off. With Gyllenhaal's recent performances in 'Enemy,' and now 'Nightcawler,' I hope he at least gets an Oscar nod this year. If there is one thing missing from 'Nightcrawler' it would be the soundtrack. 'Nightcrawler' did not have a pumping soundtrack like 'Drive.' 'Nightcrawler' was much more subdued and slickly focused. It could be seen as both a negative and a positive. 

I WOULD NEVER ASK YOU TO DO 
anything that I wouldn't do myself. 
[Lou Bloom to his new interns]

It should be noted that just because Russo is married to the director, that doesn't mean she wasn't well cast. Russo nails her role as a cutthroat newswoman. It's good to see her back in the movies. Perhaps it took her freaking husband to put her in a great role like this, as the Hollywood machine seems to openly snub actresses like Russo, just because of her age. If you're not a young fame whore, then you don't exist in Hollywood. So kudos to Russo. It's rare and refreshing for an older actress to be the "love interest" of a much younger man. My final critique would be that all of the love scenes are inferred, so it would have been nice to see a love scene between Gyllenhaal and Russo. They had incredible onscreen chemistry. Nightcrawler is definitely the must see film of the year. Top marks all around. 


FIVE OUT OF FIVE STARS

10 comments:

  1. Great write up! I loved this film so much. Please give Jake Gyllenhaal the Oscar.

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    1. Oh thanks Brittani! I really enjoyed this film. After 'Interstellar,' it was a pleasant surprise! I hope he gets nominated.

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  2. I liked this movie a lot too, spot on write up on Russo here, great to see an older actress being paired up with younger guy, she is so much sexier than most women half her age

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    1. Yes, I agree! I really loved Russo in this film. I haven't seen her in a film in a while. So I'm glad she's back. She really is a class act.

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  3. Good review. It's a very creepy movie, which is mostly thanks to how good Gyllenhaal is in this role.

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    1. Hi, thanks for your comment! I completely agree. I think Gyllenhaal really nailed this role. I hope he's nominated this year.

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  4. Awesome review! I greatly agree about Russo and the soundtrack. She gave a wonderful performance, honestly one that I think is refreshing and impressive. Personally, I preferred that they didn't have a love scene together. I think it would've taken away from the control that Bloom likes to have; also, it didn't sound like in his one speech that their whoopie was all that great. :D The soundtrack could've had more swinging notes to it, but I also liked that some of the songs sounded straight off of a weekend news program. It was sorta over the top but fit with the theme of what Bloom wanted. Great review! It'd be nice if Gyllenhaal pulled off an Oscar nod. :D

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    1. Hi Katy! Thank you! I could see that. I guess I would have been curious how they related to each in a private moment, but you're right it wasn't essential to the storyline. It would be nice to see Gyllenhaal recognized this year!

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  5. My expectations were perhaps a little too high for this, but I still did really love it. It's a real shame Jake missed out on the nomination, but I think he'll have a great 2015 with all the projects he has lined up.
    Really liked Rene Russo too.

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    1. I loved Renee in this movie. It's probably her best film in years. I wish she got more roles.

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