Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nightcrawler (Rhoades)

Gyllenhaal Slithers
To the Screen in

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

I knew a National Inquirer reporter who was so aggressive he once asked a car-accident victim, “How does it feel to be dying?”

That’s the state of ambulance-chasing journalism you encounter in “Nightcrawler,” the new Jake Gyllenhaal film that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema. It’s a bleak, perhaps satiric look at a nocturnal low-life who reinvents himself as a freelance newsman, prowling nighttime Los Angeles with a camcorder in search of salable stories.

The local TV station’s graveyard-shift news editor (Rene Russo) wants blood. “The perfect story,” she says, “is a screaming woman with her throat cut running down a street in a good neighborhood.”

Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) wants to oblige. He thinks nothing of dragging a body out of a crashed car so the wounds shine in the headlights. It makes for better television, right?

As an older, more seasoned cameraman (Bill Paxton) puts it, “If it bleeds, it leads.”
Lou is ever the money-driven entrepreneur. He hires an assistant (Riz Ahmed) and trains him by reciting inane mantras from the self-help books he reads. To Lou, empathy is a false commodity. A triple homicide in the home up in the hills is merely an existential scene to be filmed for television news.

“Nightcrawler” is the directing debut of veteran screenwriter Dan Gilroy (“The Bourne Legacy”). Here he’s telling us something about the voyeuristic nature of desensitized television audiences. And perhaps something about movie audiences too. After all, we’re sitting here watching this titillating cautionary tale, a postmodern version of “Broadcast News” and “Network.”

Jake Gyllenhaal lost weight for this role, transforming himself into a ghoulish nightcrawler, a vampirish figure who prefers the darkness. His twisted, twitchy persona will remind you of a Norman Bates with J-school ambitions, a man whose morality has withered for lack of daylight.

Yet there’s a certain manic vulnerability to his sociopathy.

At one point Lou stares at the backdrop of the LA skyline in the news studio. “On TV it looks so real,” he says, almost puzzled by the disparity between the unbridled quest for network ratings and immorality.

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