Review: "Nightcrawler"

$10.9 Million. I would have guessed a bigger box office based on the packed matinee I attended. “Nightcrawler” is a different beast than anything else in the multiplex right now. You’ve got bombastic comic book series, unneeded remakes, unwanted sequels, computer animated triteness for kids, unfunny comedies and Halloween-weekend-horror-let-downs. I thought Fall movies offered more than this. Well, there is more. There’s “Nightcrawler.”

The entire time I was watching this I couldn’t help but draw correlations between this film and Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”

Lou Bloom, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, like “Taxi Driver’s” Travis Bickle doesn’t come with a back story. These guys just appear, bringing along a black and white view of the world: A + B = C. They have compartmentalized the world in a completely self-serving way. Those around them are used with a cold calculation to build a utopia. In the film’s opening scene Lou Bloom is introduced as a thief and a liar. He’s caught by a security guard attempting to steal scrap. Sadly for the security guard, Lou is also lethal. It’s that introduction you have to attempt to hold on to throughout the film or you run the risk of being manipulated by Mr. Bloom like those he encounters.

Lou Bloom is ambitious. He decides after witnessing a film crew surround a near fatal car wreck like vultures, harvesting gory images to sale to the highest bidding TV news program. Lou likes this. He will become paparazzi to the unfortunate.

Mr. Bloom is a self-taught manipulator with no charisma whatsoever. He prefers directness to finesse. He often looks like he never sleeps more than 3 hours a night and never seems to blink like some R. Crumb doodle. He can’t relate to people interpersonally. Relationships are a series of one way steps and manipulations as he tries to and gains the upper hand.

Rene Russo’s character, a News Director at a losing Los Angeles network, is conquered by Lou as he leverages her age, lack of career success and ratings into co-dependency. She needs his footage or her career could be over. This serves Bloom’s professional and sexual ambitions. The sex is never seen on screen, but dealt with by a few sentences of dialog that will make you cringe and take note at how effective and disturbed Bloom is. In “Taxi Driver” Travis Bickle tries at romance, but it is without purpose like Lou Bloom. Travis has no plan, no real ambition. Travis Bickle is coasting and trying to form himself into society, which is why Gyllenhaal’s psychopath may be all the more terrifying: Bloom wants to mold society to his will, not fit in. Only history will tell which outcast creeps us out more: the nothing-to-lose type or the one with everything to gain.

Both “Taxi Driver” and “Nightcrawler” give us a voyeuristic view of violence. The latter more is more literal.  We look through Bloom’s viewfinder with him. We forget what Bloom is exploiting because we are caught up by his excitement and ambition. Empathic denial is a hell of a trick for cinema to pull. We witness carnage as a commodity rather than tragic. The score by James Newton Howard creates a somewhat upbeat, nearly positive excitement that urges fantasy-like curiosity rather than dread, disregard or disgust at the trading of misery for money. It’s jarring.

The violence, like in “Taxi Driver”, escalates because narrative demands it. You will have to watch the film to find out if this exhibitionist-pleasing photog faces repercussion for his actions. If you watch the nightly news, “Nightcrawler” will have you thinking about the stories that hold your attention. Do they make you complicit in misfortune, misery and crime? Do sensational news stories contain any value society at all or merely line the pockets of those licencing public airwaves under the guise of a free press. Just because we can, should we?

I highly recommend “Nightcrawler.” Not just for the thought-provoking reasons above, but for its suspense. I haven’t felt that level of unease in a movie theater for quite some time. That’s entertainment.

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