Having spent plenty of sleepless nights himself, Fikri Jermadi finds a kindred spirit…of sorts.
There is a particularly iconic scene, perhaps slightly after the halfway point of the film as I recall it, as Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) basically threatened Nina (Rene Russo) with such vigour and intensity the screen nearly cracked: “The name of my company is Video Production News, a professional news-gathering service. That’s how it should be read and that’s how it should be said. I also want to go to the next run and meet your team, and the station manager, and the director, and the anchors, and start developing my own personal relationships. I’d like to start meeting them this morning. You’ll take me around and you’ll introduce me as the owner and president of Video Production News, and remind them of some of many other stories.”
“I’m not done,” he continues. “I also want to stop our discussion over prices. This will save time. So when I say that a particular number is my lowest price, that is my lowest price and you can be assured at whatever that number is very carefully. Now, when I say these things, I mean that I want them and I don’t want to have to ask again.”
Try saying all of that in one go, without blinking, and you have an idea of what that scene was like. Lou is a freelance video newsgatherer, who goes around shooting videos often considered to be newsworthy. He sells them on to people like Nina, a news director at a news station whose ranking is so low she falls down to the level of dealing with people like Lou. In desperation for what is popular, she betrays the instincts she tried to hide at first and falls victim to the bottom line.
‘Nightcrawler’ has been described as a neo-noir crime thriller (at least, according to its Wikipedia page), and that is not that far off the mark. I’m tempted to draw correlations to ‘Drive’, which starred Ryan Gosling as an equally enigmatic lead. Their stories and purposes are not exactly the same, of course, but I gathered the same feel by way of atmosphere and ambience, and not just visually, either. Simply put, if you have seen ‘Drive’, then you have an idea of what this film feels like.
Going beyond that, I do believe that a deeper appreciation is to be found here for those majoring in journalism and related fields. This film plays out like a visual enactment of the worst case scenarios I could and probably should have gone through in my previous lectures. Sensationalism is an idea that has been discussed to the death, but the fact remains that the idea of the extraordinary will, more often than not, be more attractive to most people. Doing it over and over, relying on the same principles, cheapens the subject matter, to the point where the slippery slope takes control and there is a never-ending chase for the more extraordinary.
It brings to mind the basis of such a concept, for this is an extraordinary film in a number of different ways. One of the main reasons for that is Jake Gyllenhaal, an actor who has continued to surprise me over and over again. His is a career that seems to be informed by hindsight; even when financial disasters such as ‘Prince of Persia’ strikes, little of the blame could be apportioned to his charm on screen. If anything, he might have too much of it, which may not be good for us.
In this film, though, he manages to balance the art between being charming and creepy both at the same time. Right from the very start, his character is a relentless train that will stop at nothing, a petty thief whose dedication and discipline, it has to be said, drove him all the way. It’s not a combination you would think of normally, but like I said, this is not quite a normal movie. Neither is Lou a normal character. He spouts wise sayings that draws you in: “I set high goals and I’ve been told that I’m persistent. And I’m thinking, television news might just be something that I love as well as something I happen to be good at.”
That sentence, you would expect to hear from someone pitching at a job interview, not from a psychopath who thinks little of tampering with crime scenes and putting the lives of others in harm’s way for his own personal and professional benefit. The fact that he does so regularly hints at a cold, calculative mind that’s not quite connected to the rest of society, and yet is able to analyse and dissect it as he wishes, much like surgeon with his knife.
Perhaps it has been more than a little unfair to look at this whole film and discuss primarily the male lead. There are a number of other decent performances here too. Rene Russo is an actress I’ve not seen for a while, and the same could go for Riz Ahmed. Ahmad’s character, Rick, is something of a young drifter desperate for money. That sentence could be used to describe Lou himself. Instead, Rick is the counterpart, the ying to the yang that is Gyllenhaal.
The film does not exactly develop the way we may expect either, so it leads to some surprises that upend expected power relations. Essentially, the film charts the shift in this very power, as Lou is seen at the very bottom right at the start, struggling for money himself, before his ascent to the very top to the point where he is able to tell more established professionals in the field “I am not fucking interested”, and demand sex from Nina oh so very nonchalantly.
It is a thesis, of sorts, on us, too. We find ourselves drawn deeper into the web Lou spins, but the fact remains that if it bleeds, a stronger and higher percentage of response is to be noted. More to the point, we ourselves are voyeurs of our own choosing, allowing the director to point for us where we should look. The whole movie, then, and the experience of watching it becomes a reflection on how we ourselves allow others to take power away from us in that regard, all the while giving us the chance of identifying with and empathising for a sociopathic lead character. If it bleeds, it leads.
As Bubs once said, it’s a thin line between heaven and hell.
When he first heard about this, Fikri thought, “Jake Gyllenhaal as Nightcrawler? Awesome!” ‘Nightcrawler’ is nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category at the 87th Academy Awards. It was nominated in the Lead Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama category at the 72nd Golden Globes Awards.
Featured image credit: Wikipedia / Popperipopp