By Zehra Kazmi:
Nightcrawler is a rare film, it’s bone-chilling yet pulsating. The film leaves you in shock, your heart still thumping long after the credits have started rolling.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, an articulate and driven young man who stumbles upon the profession of night crawling, where freelance videographers roam neon-lit Los Angeles streets in order to get up-close and graphic footage of crime scenes, vehicle collisions, and other violent tragedies to be sold to the highest bidding local news stations. The film is a comment on the culture of violence that pervades today’s media, in order to satiate the public’s sick need for sensationalism – to be disgusted, but fascinated enough to not look away.
Gyllenhaal is a powerful presence in the film. The handsome and well-built actor transforms himself to look wiry thin and pale. If you pay attention, you can notice the mannerisms he adopts which make Louis unforgettable; from the slight slouch of his shoulders to the bulging eyes and his clear, high voice. He wears these mannerisms like second skin, you forget that he was ever the Prince of Persia. He is unsettling, unnerving, creeps you out, and that is why he is so good. The sympathy you develop as a viewer towards Louis in the first few scenes of the film slowly turns into shock and horror. The hollow smile and the unnatural composure he maintains throughout is what hides a deep-seated and vicious hate for mankind. He is aided by an able cast of supporting actors which include Rene Russo, as Nina, a local news producer and Riz Ahmed as Rick, a homeless drifter desperately in need of a job. Rene Russo is especially impressive as Nina, whose tough-as-nails demeanour hides weariness and vulnerability. She is an especially complex character, bloodthirsty yet strangely dignified. Riz Ahmed is impressive as Rick, clueless and bewildered about the dangerous snare that lies ahead of him.
In his directorial debut, Dan Gilroy impresses with his confident handling of the film. His Los Angeles is eerie with its dimly-lit, vacant lanes and alarmingly regular criminal activity. There are blurred faces, grainy video grabs and a gritty, haunting vibe that marks Gilroy’s LA. Gilroy has also written the script and while it is definitely swift, the finale of the film comes as no real surprise considering how he had already been building up to it from the beginning. Despite that, the final arc of the film is brilliant. The last chase sequence involving the police cars and criminals, with Louis’s trademark cherry red sedan is so incredibly well executed and thrilling that I was holding on tightly to my seat. This, people, is how you do a car chase in the movies.
A very important theme of this film is the moral corruption of the media. The erosion of media ethics and the abandonment of basic human decency and sympathy in the mad rush to sensationalise is what Nightcrawler deals with. The implied question it raises is – “For whom?’’, and this is where it becomes uncomfortable. The media is consumed by the masses and like some demonic hound, it can sense our urge for graphic images of blood and exploitation, satiating it but also increasing it by feeding us with more and more gore. In a scene where Louis is spouting statistics, he talks about how news stations fill in maximum airtime with stories about crime and violence. The film can also be interpreted as a scathing critique of neo-liberalism, pointing out the amorality of Lou’s idea of success, unburdened by conscience.
Nightcrawler is a well-crafted and taut thriller. Watch it especially for Gyllenhaal’s brilliant performance and the uncomfortable but important questions it raises.