The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"NIGHTCRAWLER"

Nightcrawler

We've all had the experience of watching something on the news or clicking a news link online, knowing that what we'd see would be horrible and/or exploitative. It's just basic human curiosity that makes us occasionally want to stare into the abyss, so to speak. At the same time, we've all had the opposite experience, too the one of turning off a news story or not clicking a link because we don't want to expose ourselves to tragedy. The news media has become more lenient in what it shows, in part because of competition for ratings. Salacious stories often move to the forefront, even if they impact fewer people than more substantive, but less titillating, stuff. Dan Gilroy's provocative and unnerving Nightcrawler looks at this phenomenon from an original point of view.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Louis Bloom, a petty thief who makes a living selling copper and metal he steals from various Los Angeles construction sites. Bloom's life changes when he stumbles upon a car crash and sees a videographer named Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) filming two cops pulling a woman from a burning auto. Loder explains that he sells his footage to whichever local TV news station offers him the most money. Bloom decides he wants a piece of that action. He buys a camcorder and a police scanner, hires an assistant named Rick (Riz Ahmed), and spends every night chasing police and ambulance calls. Bloom has a distinct willingness to cross every ethical line imaginable, including wandering inside a crime scene. This makes his footage valuable to a local news producer, Nina (Rene Russo), desperate to improve her station's ratings. But he is driven as much by ego as by money, and this creates a desire to get ever more up-close footage. Bloom, already a shady character, stops crossing those ethical lines and begins obliterating them entirely.

Let's be honest here and admit that Nightcrawler doesn't tell us anything we don't already know. The news media's propensity for exploitation has been well-covered onscreen in everything from Network to HBO's The Newsroom. There isn't much left to satirize or criticize. What Nightcrawler does is put an original spin on the idea by essentially turning it into a character study of an unethical man, then asking what will happen to TV news if too many just like him take over the business. Gilroy's screenplay offers up some tantalizingly immoral behavior on Bloom's part. What makes it disturbing isn't just that he lacks a moral compass, but that what he does isn't too far removed from what already exists. (Oh hi, TMZ!) The film suggests that the Louis Blooms of the world are in place as we speak, so it's only a matter of time before their sleaziness poisons everything.

Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of his best, most surprising performances as Bloom. Slightly raising the pitch of his voice, speaking with an unusual cadence, and sporting an unhinged gleam in his eyes, he creates a character who is chilling in his narcissism. Bloom lacks morals because he operates under only one value, which is that anything is justifiable so long as it benefits him. When he looks at a crash victim lying on the ground bleeding or sees a murdered corpse in the street, he doesn't see human suffering. He sees money. For him. At the same time, Gyllenhaal does something similar to what Dustin Hoffman did in Midnight Cowboy or Al Pacino did in Dog Day Afternoon. He plays an ethically compromised character with just enough empathy that we gladly follow him, even when that character is doing indefensible things.

Rene Russo, who generally took a sabbatical from film for several years, comes roaring back with a fiery, intense supporting performance as the producer who, in her own way, is just as immoral as Bloom. Scenes between Russo and Gyllenhaal are particularly riveting, as we watch them spar in their characters' self-serving manner. Riz Ahmed is also great, effectively playing a guy with good intentions who gets pulled down into Bloom's schemes.

Gilroy makes atmospheric use of L.A. locations at night, turning the city into a beautiful, mysterious place where awful things occur. His script is smart and literate, with some wicked barbs tossed at an industry that decides what constitutes news based on what attracts eyeballs. Nightcrawler gets exponentially more tense as it goes on, building to a climax that is both exciting and grandly tragic. It leaves your head ringing with thoughts of just how depraved human beings and news organizations can be. This is a thoroughly captivating film you can't easily shake off.

( 1/2 out of four)


Nightcrawler is rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language. The running time is 1 hour and 57 minutes.


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