On the Silver Screen – Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal stars in Nightcrawler, a thriller set in the world of L.A. crime journalism. After witnessing a car wreck that he sees on the morning news, cdecides he has found his calling and becomes determined to excel in the world of video news gathering.
Nightcrawler is a strange film in the sense that the story is fairly disjointed but never actually becomes a mess. In terms of pacing the film moves along at a decent clip and never slows down enough to become at all boring. The idea of documenting the action without being in the middle of it is an interesting one that has lots of potential. Bloom’s perspective on the accidents, murders and other such horrible acts becomes a cornerstone of the early scenes and it works really well. I like the idea of a man who turns up after an event has already happened and the drama comes in how he manages to capture it.
The world he inhabits is very well established as a hotbed of crime, corruption and amoral behaviour when it focuses the importance on selling the story rather than the ethical issue of the fact that the suffering and death of people is being exploited for TV ratings. Gyllenhaal’s Bloom has no real moral compass and is laser focused on making the story as newsworthy as possible which includes doing questionable things like breaking into the homes of victims to film the interior and moving bodies at car accidents in order to frame a better shot.
Despite Bloom’s questionable morality I never found him to be an unlikeable character. Quite the contrary in fact, I really liked Gyllenhaal’s awkward and weedy look that causes people to underestimate him upon first look. This provides a nice contrast to his driven and clinical way of speaking that causes people to take notice of him as well as the fact that he is very good at what he does and is getting better all the time. Some of the best scenes involve his eerily calm threatening speeches where he outlines exactly what he wants and proves how in control of the situation he is.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the professional relationship between Bloom and Nina Romina (Rene Russo) who admires his work and wants to keep him on side but is a little creeped out by him at the same time. There are some great scenes where Bloom tries to force their relationship somewhere beyond a professional level but she flatly refuses despite his insistence. She’s an interesting character who towes the moral line after years of experience knowing how the business works and what she has to do in order to stay in business.
Her character does tend to come and go from the plot and doesn’t seem to undergo any form of a character arc. I was expecting a scene where she realises that Bloom has gone too far and refuses to run with his footage which might come at the expense of her job but prove she has some measure of professional integrity and has a line that she won’t cross but such a scene never came. As such she acts as more of an enabler for the story rather than a fully formed character in her own right.
A central relationship in the film is Bloom and his intern Rick Garcia (Rick Garcia -no, really) who is so desperate for work that he accepts a job with almost no pay under Bloom and is responsible for getting him to the scenes of accidents in the quickest time to beat the other people chasing footage. This relationship seemed really strange to me as Bloom treats Rick something like a spouse he is abusing but he rationalises this cruel treatment as being for his own good. Many of the discussions involve a nebulous high standard that Bloom expects Rick to adhere to but he’s never all that specific about what is involved to meet that…other than doing whatever he’s told. It actually becomes an interesting satire on the hoops employers make employees jump through on the false promise of being able to progress within the company where in reality there’s almost no chance of upward mobility or recognition.
There is no real resolution to this relationship in any way that feels meaningful. As with Rene Russo’s character Rick comes and goes from the story without making all that much impact and the relationship remains fairly static until towards the end where there’s something of a hasty and unearned resolution to the employer/employee dynamic that seemed like it was going to fracture throughout but never really goes anywhere.
Bill Paxton plays Joe, Bloom’s main rival in the news gathering business. What started off as an interesting rivarly doesn’t actually go anywhere. Paxton has very little screen time and when he does appear there’s a somewhat fascinating experience vs enthusiasm dynamic being established but he eventually vanishes from the plot with no real explanation why. I really enjoyed Gyllenhaal and Paxton’s scenes together so I’m disappointed that the film doesn’t make more of this adversarial relationship as there was plenty of potential here.
Everything in this film looks great. The use of street lights and lighting from sirens as well as camera lights in an urban setting allows it to have a very distinctive look that sets it apart from many films out there. Some excellent framing for the action ramps up the excitement with particular attention to be paid to a really nicely done car chase that is a joy to watch. The combination of traditional filming and the found footage handycam style is really effective in adding tension to the scenes. Sometimes I did feel that there were too many “beauty shots” of the Dodge Challenger but whatever gets the film paid for I guess.
There was something awkward about the way the story was structured. Gyllenhaal’s rise in notoriety and his gaining of skills is accomplished in a montage that doesn’t establish the fact that he’s gotten a lot better at this very well and his rise to notoriety seems a little quick, there’s only 4 documented cases that we see and he’s went and bought himself a Dodge Challenger. It’s also curious that there were no real consequences or stumbling blocks to this career path. There’s a part of the film where it looks like the consequences would come in the form of him becoming a target after becoming too involved in a story that he films but this isn’t really capitalised on at all and comes off seeming like a missed opportunity. I think a stronger character arc for Gyllenhaal’s Bloom would have made for more interesting viewing.
An interesting movie with a lot of potential that it doesn’t quite live up to. There are a lot of interesting plots that are set up such as the rivalry with Bill Paxton’s character, the employer/employee relationship with Rick Garcia’s character and the professional manipulative relationship with Rene Russo’s character but none of those seem to go anywhere interesting. Gyllenhaal’s performance is superb and he manages to be both creepy and likeable at the same time.
I was expecting more from the plot in terms of the moral ambiguity associated with his occupation that never seems to be addressed to reach any sense of resolution one way or another. Despite the shortcomings the film is well paced, well acted and incredibly entertaining with some very memorable visuals.