A Year of Unlimited #9 – Nightcrawler

This is the latest in a series of blogs I’ve called “A Year of Unlimited”, which isn’t perhaps the catchiest way to put it, but encapsulates my attempts to blog about every film I see while I’m signed up to the Unlimited service. I’m not linking to every one, so go and find them yourselves!

One of the perks of the Unlimited card is that every so often a screening comes up just for Unlimited customers – however, they’ve not been great so far (Daniel Radcliffe in an indie rom-com? I’m alright cheers). When Nightcrawler was advertised as the next screening a couple of weeks ago however, I’d just read a few, very positive US reviews, and I was intrigued.

Nightcrawler concerns ubercreep Leo Bloom (Gyllenhaal) looking for a living in LA, finding it in the macabre and soulless world of crime scene video-journalism (hence the film’s name, as this is a name for these gorehounds). As he begins to go beyond what’s acceptable, and take more risks than the competition (the always great Bill Paxton), he hires and exploits down-and-out Rick (Brit actor Riz Ahmed, of Four Lions fame) while selling his footage (and himself) to TV news boss Nina (Rene Russo). Leo’s singular perspective on getting the best footage (and sod the consequences or moral issues), plus his desire to be recognised for his “art”, drive the film toward a disturbing conclusion.

A skeletal and emaciated Gyllenhaal portrays Bloom as a hollowed-out and skeezy loner, a fiercely-intelligent man without morals or empathy. While he’s not a killer – the fact that people pay handsomely for his videos make you realise he’s not alone in his lack of care for others – his actions are warped and in service of his dreams of being a successful businessman. You’re gripped by what he might stoop to next – this is a man who sees more than money in this most grotesque of pursuits; he gets a buzz from filming the injured and dying and selling his footage to the highest bidder. The film and Gyllenhaal’s portrayal poke and prod you and make you uncomfortable, forcing you to consider how it is that people can do such a job without a shred of self-doubt, and it’s a very good performance.

The other two main characters – Riz Ahmed’s Rick and Rene Russo’s Nina – are the two people “closest” (in a manner of speaking) to Leo. Rick is hired by Leo as a co-worker, but is exploited ruthlessly while Leo enjoys all the benefits, and Ahmed makes Rick the most sympathetic character in the film, as well as the audience’s voice when things start to take a turn for the crazy. He reflects the desperation of people looking for a job, any job, and is the moral compass (and comic relief) in contrast to Leo’s blank menace, though many of his scenes are almost identical, and he could have been given a lot more to do. Russo’s Nina is the TV boss whom Leo sells his videos to for the news, and she provides a skewed mirror image to Leo: he wants her fame and her success, while she reflects his basest behaviour in her zeal to report and present the most graphic footage to viewers.nightcrawler-poster

Russo is good as the complete opposite to the scared, damsel-in-distress, such as Cybill Shepherd’s Betsy in Taxi Driver, who are usually frightened of and trying to escape men like Leo. She’s more than just a match for him, as she represents the very worst in journalism in exploiting the dead and injured for viewer consumption. In fact, it’s almost as if the two spur each other on to be worse, and you don’t get the sense that she feels threatened. Other characters come and go (there’s a one-note morally-focused TV editor who argues the footage is too much, and a female cop who goes after Leo for some of his filming), though Bill Paxton is always worth a mention as the competition Leo encounters, a veteran nightcrawler, with Paxton utilising his twisted, greasy grin and demeanour to give the sense of a man who’s given himself to a life of journalism via rubbernecking.

Writer and director Tony Gilroy portrays the characters and Los Angeles as dangerous, dirty and bleak: most of the film is set at night, and like other films before it including Collateral, you get the sense LA is just not somewhere you want to be at night. Much of the way the film is made appears more independent in scope (there are some stunts but nothing huge), but it gives Nightcrawler a more earthy, documentary-like feel – and knowing that people do in fact do this as a job, it feels very uncomfortably like Leo Bloom could be out there doing this now (a clever marketing campaign for the film produced LinkedIn and other social network pages for Leo to increase this sense of reality).

Don’t watch Nightcrawler if you prefer to stick on the more positive side of things – this is a movie reflecting the very lowest that people will sink to for money and opportunity. I think it’s the sort of film that should be made more often, especially coming so soon after Gone Girl the other week, and though there’s perhaps some depth that could have been given to certain characters and plot points, it’s still worth a watch.

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