Well now let’s make the obvious gag disappear first shall we, so this new film isn’t Jake Glenethall…..no, I mean that guy Jake Glythenal…no, damn it, that’s not it…..it’s not…oh you know who I mean, it’s not Maggie Gyllenhaal’s brother’s demonic materialization into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (bamf), no this new film is a much more satirical affair, a seething, glowing media mauling where the Big Brother of the movies delivers a good kicking to its upstart sniveling little brother, television. With a Peter Lorre squrim and hyena like tenacity Gyllenhaal is Louis Bloom, an ambitious young droog whom we first meet panhandling for scraps of metal in the decaying industrial ghettos of Los Angeles. Bloom is not a man one would be comfortable spending any extended time with, he’s a sociopath and a thief who spouts platitudes culled from a confused mélange of self-help books and corporate management speak, obsessed with bettering himself and ascending the career ladder despite an empathic void of social behavior and a dangerously inflated sense of self. When Bloom witnesses a frantic ambulance chasing TV camera crew descend like vultures upon on a recent car-wreck his entrepreneurial spirit is ignited, and he invests his mediocre resources into a police scanner and lightweight camcorder, like a modern-day Weegee prowling the city of angels for the latest atrocity to sell to the ravenous 24 hour news cycle, the more gruesome and sensational the better. As his increasingly sordid footage buttresses the failing rating of fading and aging News Anchor Nina Romina (Rene Russo) Bloom finds his influence rising, prompting him to seek even more sensational material to sate the ravenous appetites of his new corporate colleagues……
For the first half hour or so I was cautiously enjoying this film as it carefully arranged its satirical scaffolding, painting a sordid sortie of night dwelling vampires who trade in human misery, before one terrific scene elevated Nightcrawler to the tabloid front pages, a simple selection of two characters in a restaurant incrementally exposing their true poisonous cores. Shot efficiently and directly it gives the two leads a chance to fully expose their characters nauseating flaws in one of the best scenes of the year, a sequence which prompted audience gasps and giggling in equally uncomfortable measures. In that sense Nightcrawler is a film of transactions and trade not just in simple commerce but also in an audiences complicit yearning, of rubber-necking at accidents and reveling in the doomed fate of strangers, a muted sensational sense that for the grace of god go I. It’s great to see Rene Russo back on-screen in a role which she fully sinks her fangs into with a desperate veneer of exhausted compromise, willing to sell her very soul to maintain her precarious pedestal in the unyielding forum of ratings and the all important market share. The central centrifuge though is Gyllenhaal’s ghoulish, grave robbing performance, faintly registering on the Aspergers scale as he gleefully mutters and grins through his hollow mantras, a plasticine performance which steps eerily in line with the films malleable ambitions, and maybe the Academy will proclaim a hot off the press scoop come next February.
Like any other unoriginal hack I realize I tend to hark on and on about cinematography but when the work is of such quality it would be a critical crime not to celebrate such achievements, and is there a DP with a better eye than Robert Elswit (a regular collaborator with P.T. Anderson) in photographing contemporary, sensuous California? Elswitt bathes the screen in shimmering reds and cobalt blues which illuminate the frigid hell of these characters mortal vulgarity, not since Michael Mann’s Collateral has nocturnal LA looked so dangerously seductive. It’s also actually rather refreshing to wallow in an American movie where almost everyone is a reprehensible, self-serving wretch of humanity who’d throw an orphanage under a bus if it could potentially enhance their hideous career, with the possible exception of the faintly pathetic Rick (Riz Ahmed of Four Lions fame) retaining some small shred of moral imperative, yet even he, like everyone else on these mean streets of the Angels has a commercial threshold when the prospect of the almighty dollar hemorrhages into the viewfinder.
Beyond the singular media satire the film muses some broader concerns of a desperate generations fingertip reach for the first rung of the corporate ladder (on an associated note isn’t this fucking nauseating), of socially programmed ambition in the face of cold commercial logic – no experience, no hope, no job, unless you race to the bottom faster than your morally disabled contemporaries. In some strange moment of scary serendipity I was passing through chaotic London Bridge station very early this morning where I observed a very odd phenomenon – a young chap, angled toward the hordes of commuters flooding in from the home counties, garbed in his best suit holding aloft a sign proclaiming ‘I’m a 2:1 Legal Graduate, Looking for Work’ like some bizarre inversion of a Dickensian beggar, hoping his demonstration of proactivity might get him a job. Unfortunately Nightcrawler slithers away from its carefully hewn path in the final stretch as the various plot strands don’t quite meld together into a scrupulously savage whole, but it retains a modest sting with a credit baiting coda that is cruelly effective and affecting – crime always pays on both sides of the law. The touchstones beyond the 1970’s prescient classic Network are corporately clear with Gyllenhaal’s uncomfortable performance manipulated through the prism of Travis Bickle and Rupert Pupkin of King Of Comedy fame, where Scorsese’s capitalist creed of Wolf Of Wall Street opened the year Nightcrawler seals the deal of 2014 with a gutter saturated vision of the American Dream, roll tape, cue anchors and watch the world burn;