Some films just make you feel creeped out the whole way through, and they don’t even need to be traditionally scary in a horror sense to do that, and Nightcrawler is one of those movies.
Nightcrawler tells the story of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a social pariah with a very deranged detachment from normal human emotions who gets involved in the ethically questionable ambulance-chasing news coverage that is popular in the Los Angeles of the day. It’s a constantly escalating tale where the stories become more violent and gruesome and the risks that Lou and his colleague Rick (Riz Ahmed) have to take to get the scoop become greater and greater.
The photography side of journalism isn’t explored much, but this film takes an interesting approach to uncovering the shady and ethically grey area that is reporting on others’ “worst day of their lives”, as Lou puts it. In Los Angeles, where we’re aware of the cut-throat nature of life, it seems almost normalised as the TV stations barely blink at the bloody scenes put in front of them. How realistic this sort of reporting is, I’m not sure, but it certainly raises a question as to how far TV news should go in reporting the news when it affects the dignity of those involved.
Lou Bloom is a terrifyingly real example of a callous and cold person who doesn’t know where to draw the line. In the first scene even, we see Lou attack a security guard who accosts him for breaking in to a restricted rail yard. He’s extremely personable, if a little full-on, when he talks to people, but that all hides the psychotic rage behind it all. It seeps out in moments while he’s on his own, when he’s negotiating with people (including blackmailing his news station handler Nina [Rene Russo] into having sex with him), and when he’s faced with confrontation over his journalistic style. Jake Gyllenhaal does an amazing job of portraying him, with the gaunt and wired look that makes the character all the more unpleasant and the sort of calm and strangely confident nature that belies the demons inside.
As the film progresses we see more and more of what Lou is willing to do to go further in the business, and presumably with Nina too. He is never out-and-out malicious towards people, but it is cleverly shown to the audience through various little glances and phrases that adds to the level of quiet discomfort that made the film more compelling. It’s that uneasiness that the film aims for that is its’ trademark, and it pulls it off beautifully.
The problem with Nightcrawler for me is that it didn’t really have a pay-off towards the end, or a real investigation of the characters’ motives. Bloom gets more and more involved in the news business as the film progresses, but apart from hints at wanting the fortune, fame and females that come with it, there’s not real exposition of what’s driving Bloom to be this cold-hearted maniac. Similarly with his love interest Nina, apart from the fact that Lou is bringing in the shots people want to see and keeping her job more comfortable, there’s no real explanation of why she sees what Lou is doing and the way he’s using her as acceptable.
[Spoilers in this paragraph]: In the end there’s no real denouement, Lou gets the big scoop, Nina’s ratings shoot up and in the end Lou’s business expands – despite almost getting charged by the police for what were his crimes. Even the music towards the end delivers a fake-out, with an angelic chorus ringing out while Lou walks away scot-free. We’re not meant to like Lou, and seeing him drive away into the night at the end doesn’t really provide the ending that he or the audience deserves. Without that, you don’t leave with the sort of satisfaction that you would hope to.
As a look at the darker side of news and the danger of those most excluded from society, Nightcrawler is a top-notch film, but like Lou itself it lacks that human connection with the audience that would make it hit home on another level.