Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW Nightcrawler
Partners In Crime And Capitalism In Los Angeles

Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis and Rene Russo as Nina in "Nightcrawler", directed by Dan Gilroy.
  Open Road

Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, December 16, 2014

If it looks like a hulking rat is prowling Los Angeles for cheese in Dan Gilroy's "Nightcrawler", it's because Jake Gyllenhaal is.  As Louis Bloom, a thief and sociopath, Mr. Gyllenhaal turns in the best performance of his career as a feral, urban cockroach who gains ascendancy through manipulation, criminality and being first person at gruesome crime scenes, armed with a video camera.  He skulks, he crawls, he hunts.  He's ravenous.  He's a vampire.  The bodies are the cheese.  The camera and a police scanner are the bait.  Money is the name of the bloody game.  He drives a scarlet red Thunderbird that resembles Christine, even though that car was a Plymouth.

Cool, moody with the L.A. atmospherics of Michael Mann and a muted version of "To Live And Die In L.A." of William Friedkin, "Nightcrawler" is an allegory about the birth of America post-Native Americans through violence and taking of lives by force, both as spectacle and as capitalist bargaining chip.  Bodies are auctioned and bartered just as in America's era of enslavement.  Only in "Nightcrawler" the bodies are dead. 

Louis, who fights off other more experienced newsgathering drag-race competitors, brings his footage to struggling TV news outlet KWLA, where newsroom director Nina (Rene Russo) warms to the money shots Louis has to offer.  "Can we air this?", Nina's right hand man asks.  He's shocked, strangely enough, in his "if it bleeds it leads" business, that his boss would want to air such graphic footage of victims.  "Pixellate the faces," the station's legal consultant advises. 

There's an overall detachment from human beings throughout "Nightcrawler".  We know little about anyone.  The only concern about humans comes from that helpless, hopeless, bemused and comical look at Mr. Rahm's Frank Kruse character.  It's as if the movie or L.A.'s landscape, is laughing at him, looking at him as an innocent whose own will has been cruelly and slickly overtaken by the new media opportunists like Louis.  But the irony is, Louis has no interest in being a news man.

Class lines merge between Louis's humble beginnings -- a radio broadcast voice mentions "unemployment" immediately after his initial transgression, a ready justification for his violence -- and the patrician, sanctified airs of Nina, an older woman of the suburbs who has either a real or imagined sense of self-loathing.  "We want white crime victims, affluent, in the suburbs," Nina declares.  She knows lurid news items about white crime victims sells but she's also long since given up on Los Angeles as a sparkling metropolis.  Money is the only zip code she lives in.  And Nina's detachment from Los Angeles is laced with as much a contempt of the City of Angels as with a love of capital.

Mr. Gilroy, the husband of Ms. Russo, elicits from her one of the best performances of her career, in his directorial debut.  Ms. Russo brings command, intelligence and a power of suggestion as Nina, a steadfast, confident news lifer who can't be bought.  One scene in the film's third act symbolizing its underlying raison d'être is verbal foreplay.  The scene is cleverly paced and acted, pulsing with eroticism and sexual tension.  But in its background is a jolting reminder of the pornography its participants marinate over.

"Nightcrawler", an intoxicating nighttime wildlife special, lurks like an opportunity whose time has come.  Its characters lie in wait, then pounce like lecherous lions on the prey that is waiting to be had.  The film is a narrative of L.A.'s nightlife, an unseemly look at the underbelly of Tinseltown.  Bodies get their own close-ups on Sunset Boulevard, the kind Nora Desmond would never dream of but William Holden's character unfortunately would fret over, are examined and exhibited on KWLA's news broadcast as if in a beauty pageant.  These bloodied bodies get fifteen seconds of fame but it is of a repetitive, monotone and antiseptic fervor as amorphous and anonymous as Los Angeles itself.

The director achieves a new kind of future reality TV, a do it yourself manual on how to be the small-time star of your own criminal enterprise and achieve crossover success.  It's a fresher, updated societal evolution of capitalism, one that is an auxilliary sister to the mainstream news media's 24-hour hour cable frenzy, one built on a caffeinated craving for the most shocking and exploitive footage (read: snuff material) that can be aired.  We are already wallowing in this enterprise, with videos of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner shown on loops on TV news and online, only they are the victims that "Nightcrawler" doesn't care about.

Through the at-times mannered sculpting of Mr. Gyllenhaal, whose eyes bulge, Louis has a healthy appetite for cornering markets through improvisation and by turns far worse.  His desire to be someone, to be noticed in such a expansive metropolis, is such that he needs the dead bodies of others to validate himself.  "That's way low, brother, way low," as Jamie Foxx once said in "Collateral", another L.A. nighttime excursion of Mr. Mann. 

Louis is more hollowed out than a donut.  Aside from the desire to seek a connection with a special someone, Louis's only ties to anything living is the small plant in his apartment that he waters somewhat hopefully, a plant which by the way has few leaves.  The near-leafless plant is no accident.  A tree of life won't grow anywhere in Louis's neighborhood any time soon.

Also with: Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Ann Cusack, Michael Hyatt, Kent Shocknek, Pat Harvey, Sharon Tay, Rick Garcia, Bill Seward. 

"Nightcrawler" is playing now across the U.S. and Canada.  The film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for violence including graphic images, and for language.  The film's running time is one hour and 57 minutes.

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