The present day/night Los Angeles depicted in Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler (2014), directly mirrors the sinister, melting plastic pot it can often seem to be: A shallow reflecting pool brimming with all flavors of ultra-violence; pressed against our faces; forcing our nostrils to run red until we taste the copper in the back of our throats. Shot in surgically crisp HD video, I initially found myself awash in visual conundrum. At first glance, the digital artifice of the “film” pushed me back, because it looked too uncomfortably real; yet that dead-on portrayal of Angel City, in all its super-saturated polychrome and sharp lighting, pulled me right back into my own voyeuristic narcissism. I felt abjectly dislocated; yet recognized familiar ground under foot. Gilroy’s lens kept my polarity shifting throughout the film.
Nightcrawler’s pacing runs counter to its name. The brass knuckles are laid down to the teeth in the opening scene; near the L.A. River front, under the shine of neon-infused moon and LED flashlight. The glint on one man’s wrist, matching the sparkle in Louis Bloom’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) eye. We see right off, Lou’s gonna take us on a dark and winding slither. He soon slips onto the scene of some disaster porn, near the 110 and 10 freeway interchange. It’s here, with metal and rubber melting into asphalt that Bloom finds his calling..
Jakey G’s Lou Bloom, definitely ain’t got no chain of daisies sprouting up from his murky soul. He’s a thief, a hustler, a liar, a calculating manipulator. Some would say he’s entrepreneurial; donning the colors of a true predatory capitalist. He speaks in the rapid-fire staccato of a motivational speaker cum corporate strategist. Every word pinpointed precisely on the target he wills himself to acquire.. Lou Bloom is Dan Gilroyian muck, stacked six feet high. He is a shallow reflecting pool. He is a stringer. He trades in human suffering for personal profit. A freelance “newsman” of sorts; who sells digital video content of car crashes, fires, crimes, mayhem, and murders, to KWLA 6 TV News.
As a potential colleague and/or rival stringer, Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), tells Lou in their first encounter: Being a stringer is “..a flaming asshole of a job.” As always, Paxton proves his acting mettle; and I couldn’t help but laugh my ass off when Bill’s Loder dropped this line — as I was reminded of his role as the comically abusive brother, Chet, in Weird Science, where he was ultimately transformed into a human pile of fly-ridden turdslop, by Kelly LeBrock! Riz Ahmed’s Rick, a good-hearted and hungry, couch-surfing kid, answers Lou’s call for a video news intern and becomes a slightly unwilling accomplice along for Lou’s slip and slide.
Rick is the counter morality weight to Lou’s dark hubris; perhaps one of few characters here, possessing any level of spiritual purity.. Rene Russo’s Nina Romina, an Alpha Female news room editor some twenty years older than Lou, makes her a formidable mentor, uneasy business colleague, and eventual symbiote. Nina’s It-Bleeds-It-Leads-style of news addiction and lack of moral compass, may be even more diabolical than Lou’s own.
-Gilroy’s dialogue is peppered with a brilliant combination of feints, body blows, rope-a-dopes, and haymakers that bell-ring true to the authenticity of the characters portrayed in his film.
-Gyllenhaal delivers a sociopath in Lou Bloom you cannot help but identify with, and may/may not actually even admire in some respects, especially if you’re living the L.A. hustle.
–Performances a la Russo, Paxton, and Ahmed further tease out delightfully visceral shades you’ll experience here in sinister spectrum, and otherwise..
-The only rotten stink I really whiffed in this Denmark is the fact that the plot, although exciting and adeptly paced, is often predictably formulaic in most respects. I’m still pondering whether this was totally intentional on Gilroy’s part; and I think it may be, as this predictability seemed to add another layer of meta-noir familiarity upon the whole film, pulling me in deeper to that voyeuristic narcissism I mentioned earlier.
The entire experience for me was a constant shifting between my own reality, being an Angeleno, in conjunction with watching a brilliantly performed meta-noir crime film, set in a plastic L.A., that happened to push my brainpan further into some cinematic sandbox, by encompassing visual tropes and structures from the nightly news– populated with many of the actual newscasters who we see on TV every night here in Lost Angeles..
If I were you, I’d underbelly up to the box office next week when Nightcrawler (2014) opens, and I’d open my wallet. Drop some plastic on this one. You’ll be glad you did. And after you see it, you might just wanna break out your smartphone, run some red lights, and maybe find a little murder and mayhem of your own. There’s plenty of it out there.. I’m going out tonight, after sundown, to stir up the muck; and see if I can find some sensationalistic grimy grit, to string onto my own Video News Production channel.
And even though we know this Nightcrawler ain’t outta the Kurt Wagner gene pool, and you find you’re gonna ixnay this flick entirely; maybe you’ll wanna check out Stan Lee’s Annihilator (2015), that Dan Gilroy just finished banging the screenplay out for.. They’re supposedly dropping $100 Million on it, and I heard Stan might hire Lou Bloom to be the D.P.
Open Road Films’ Nightcrawer sneaks onto theaters this Friday, October 31st.