A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.
Year 3, Film #34
THE GOOD: Nightcrawler is a film that makes you raise your eyebrows repeatedly throughout the film thinking, “What is going on here,” and while some of the direction of this film is questionable, there’s also a lot that gets your heart beating faster and your mind racing. One could argue that this is a thriller, but it lacks some of that suspense. One could argue it’s a drama, but it lacks some of that impact. Coming out of the theater I wasn’t really sure how to think about it, and now as I’m sitting here writing this review almost two hours later, I still don’t know exactly what I think about it. And I think it’s this uncertainty that makes this film so appealing to me.
This film revolves around Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal1) and his nightly missions to try and videotape the latest crimes happening in Los Angeles to then sell to the local news stations for the 6:00 broadcast. For starters, let’s focus on Lou. I’m not really sure how to describe him other than odd, aloof, and at least partially psychotic. He starts as a thief and a bit of a wanderer, not really sure what he’s doing with his life, until he stumbles across the business of recording videos for news stations. After this discovery, he’s sucked in and becomes overly obsessed with finding and recording every possible murder, accident, or violent act in the county.
It’s the combination of these two — the character and the profession — that serve as the backbone of the film, and it’s this combination that makes this film so crazy, creepy, and in some ways, scary. While this film is being released on Halloween and it is quite dark (a lot of scenes take place during the night) I don’t think it’s scary in that way (although there was at least one “jump-in-your-seat” moment for me). What makes Nightcrawler so scary and creepy is that uncertainty I mentioned. The story makes enough sense — Lou starts this job as an amateur doing low-level reporting, then gradually moves up until he reaches a point where he starts making his own news — but the reasoning and motivations behind it don’t completely match up.
While this does provide some issues (which I’ll get into in a bit), I can’t help but think this uncertainty as to why things are happening is somewhat captivating. It’s like looking inside the mind of a madman, unsure of what he’s going to do next. Lou’s business talk and negotiations seem to use vocabulary straight out of a Dilbert comic and totally don’t fit his creepy/crazy character. But on the other hand, it kind of does. The events that unfold are messed up and would cause moral and ethical dilemmas for most people, but to Lou they’re just as natural as taking a walking around the block. His blasé attitude and insistence that everything happening around him is normal and just good for business is the complete opposite to how we the audience feels watching the film. It’s this dichotomy that’s so interesting and provides the heart-pounding, mind-racing moments.
THE BAD: However, Nightcrawler does suffer it’s fair share of issues. The biggest, and most annoying, is the lack of background or context as to where Lou Bloom comes from. Part of this not-knowing adds to the appeal of the film, but a much larger part leaves a gaping hole right in the heart of the movie. I’m usually very good with giving a film the benefit of the doubt and having a high suspension of disbelief, but no dice for Nightcrawler. Being thrown right in the middle of things and never getting an explanation (even a partial explanation or a hint) just doesn’t cut it. Especially when you consider that we start with Lou as a thief stealing raw materials and trying to sell them on the black market. There’s also the matter of him beating up the security guy and stealing his fancy watch (that he then wears for the rest of the film, but is never talked about!! — yes, that requires two exclamation points).
Not only is it a lack of background/context, it’s also lacking in some direction. Parts of the film are clear in how things are developing (the severity of the stories, the impact on the characters) but the end in particular suffers a similar problem that Gone Girl faced: it ends on an open note that seems to contradict the rest of the film. Nightcrawler doesn’t have nearly as bad of an ending as Gone Girl does, it still feels out of place. Lou’s closing line redeems most of it and ends the film on a high note, but the little bit before that last line is the problem area. And the reason it’s a problem gets back to knowing exactly what the deal is with Lou. I’m not asking for a definitive answer and his entire history, I just want some hint, some very small hint, that I can use to try and make sense of things. Instead, the questions that remain leave us partially intrigued and partially annoyed and upset.
THE TAKEAWAY: This is a film that will leave you unsure of how you feel when the credits start to roll. Parts are entertaining, amusing, intriguing, and teeth-clenching. But other parts are annoying, upsetting, and questionable. I have a feeling that if I watch this film again in a couple months time my reaction might be completely different. That time to let the film sink in a bit more might make things more clear and therefore more exciting. Or, it could just add to the confusion and make the film more annoying.
Nightcrawler opens in theaters next Friday on October 31, 2014.
THE RATING: 3 out of 5
Gyllenhaal showed up at the beginning of the screening to give a little introduction to the film before proceeding to take selfies with everyone in the theater. This is easily the coolest thing a celebrity has ever done at one of these screenings and I give major props to Gyllenhaal for doing it. You could tell he was really excited for this movie and extremely passionate about the work he did. Ben Affleck still has to rank number one on the list of celebrity guests (even though I didn’t get a selfie, though I was five feet away), but Gyllenhaal ranks a close second. Very down-to-earth, very friendly; he seems like a guy that’s very fun to be around. ↩