Before the 87th Academy Awards ceremony airs this Sunday, February 22 – ending all speculation as to this year’s winners – we’re peering into Nightcrawler‘s intrusive lens to see if it has a clear shot at winning Best Original Screenplay.
By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
Quoting Don Henley’s 1982 song, Dirty Laundry:
We got the bubble-headed bleach blonde comes on at five
She can tell you ’bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye
It’s int’resting when people die, Give us dirty laundry
Can we film the operation, is the head dead yet
Y’know the boys in the newsroom got a running bet
Get the widow on the set, We need dirty laundry
Don Henley couldn’t have said it better. Until thirty-two years later, when accomplished screenwriter and first-time director Dan Gilroy came along with Nightcrawler. (Gilroy follows in the steps of his older brother Tony Gilroy, screenwriter and first-time director of Michael Clayton.)
Addressing the voyeuristic demand for graphic crime footage (“If it bleeds, it leads”), Gilroy delivers an unholy look at the seemingly chipper local TV news show that, behind the camera, has a vampiric thirst for a never-ending stream of physical mayhem resulting from crime, accidents, fire, suicide, etc. The station prefers that the victims be affluent and/or white whereas, as the news director states, “A carjacking in Compton, for example, this isn’t news, now is it?” As for the suppliers, Nightcrawler focuses on the adrenalized freelance crews of videographer paparazzi who are eager to deliver, just as long as the price is right.
At its heart, the film has a classic arc, in which the down and out protagonist pulls himself up by the frayed bootstraps in order to achieve success. But it’s the protagonist himself, as played by Jake Gyllenhaal, that twists Nightcrawler into an amazing piece of cinema.
It’s not often that a leading man slithers over to the disturbed, dark side of the anti-hero … those roles are usually the domain of the multi-talented character man. Yet here, Gyllenhaal shrugs off his earlier vestiges of the leading man (such as in the fantasy adventure Prince of Persia, actioners such as Day After Tomorrow, and strong dramas such as Brokeback Mountain and Rendition) and instead, slips into the skin of a bug-eyed creep who owns this movie – and us – from the first frame to the last.
Oozing traces of Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle, with a smudge of The King of Comedy‘s Rupert Pupkin on the side, Gyllenhaal shed 30 pounds to play the ever-hungry Louis Bloom, morphing his handsome, expressive face into a gaunt, dingy-toothed jack-o-lantern, his wolfish grin flashing at the slightest glimmer of leverage. He’s a poster boy for the bi-polar, his manic side dominant as he spews self-starter jargon in a flat yet speedy robotic delivery. But as fast as his speech may be, Bloom can’t quite catch up to his percolating brain that’s countless steps ahead, boiling and bubbling over with new angles and agendas.
He’s the quintessential nightcrawler, a slimy earthworm who only surfaces at night in order to snatch at some sustenance and drag it back underground. In the first scene, Bloom pilfers some chain link fencing, which he then peddles to a scrapyard owner. After a disappointing negotiation, Bloom accepts the few bucks he can get and asks for a job. The scrapyard owner flatly refuses. “I’m not hiring a fucking thief.” And so the ironic undertow begins.
The movie then cuts straight to the virtual chase as Bloom comes upon the scene of a car crash populated by first responders … followed by excited cameramen who are bent on capturing the bloodiest shots possible. Playing the primary video/paparazzo, Bill Paxton answers Bloom’s pressing questions, inadvertently tutoring him on the finer points of the profession. Bloom’s disturbingly large eyes grow even larger as he grasps the untold opportunities of this particular job – a job that would never appear on any advertised career site.
Armed with a newbie’s piss-poor radio scanner and a rudimentary camcorder, Bloom hustles his way into the trade, vying to become the go-to supplier of the gore-friendly TV morning news show run by Nina Romina (a marvelous Rene Russo). With her job on the line, and the station’s ratings falling below the competition, Nina (à la Faye Dunaway in Network) is invested in reversing her station’s nosedive. When the eager Bloom asks Nina to tell him exactly what she wants, she says, “… think of our news cast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”
Robert Elswit’s cinematography is perfection, depicting the lure of L.A. afterdark in all of its haves-and-have-nots glory. The shots have a great, inky depth, set off by a few twinkling lights here, a bit of neon there. The city entices, sending out a siren call to all the thieves and thugs who we can sense circling the perimeter just inches outside of the slightest slivers of light.
Gilroy’s script (a worthy Oscar contender) continually bites at the hand that feeds us. The theme is both salient and disquieting, particularly given the current culture of videographer wannabes equipped with nothing but a smartphone and an instagram/twitter/facebook account, hoping to spark their 30 seconds of fame by shooting live footage that just might go viral. It’s the latest blood sport of this century, swelling in tandem with every faster, better, bigger release of the next iteration of cell phone.
And yet it is because of this video phenomenon that sometimes crimes are solved, murderers apprehended, kidnappers captured, unlawful police actions revealed. The line between crime reportage, and reportage that’s a crime in and of itself, grows fainter by the day.
How great it is that Gilroy decided to take a searing look at that line. And shoot. And deliver.
Rating on a scale of 5 shots in the dark: 4.5
Initial Release Date: October 31, 2014 (currently available on VOD)
Written and Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Kevin Rahm
Running Time: 117 minutes
Here’s the trailer: