The Reel Deal
A Reel Deal Film Review
By Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 5 out of 5
“A REAL AMERICAN HERO?”
“Why aren’t we at the rape in Vincent Park like everyone else?” asks assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) to his boss, freelance cameraman Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). Bloom seems to have a sixth sense for finding the better accident, the better crime scene, the better “story.” In his own words, “Television news might just be something I love, as well as something I happen to be good at.”
When we first meet Lou, he’s a man on the fringes of society. He steals to get by: chain-link fences, bikes, etc. His first words in the film are “I’m lost,” and we immediately agree, sensing there is something lost, something missing within him. He’s odd, seeming almost autistic at first, but he’s driven. He is pure ambition, talking in the inhuman faux-inspirational vernacular of the business seminar. Early on he unleashes this speech on a potential employer: “Excuse me, sir. I”m looking for a job. In fact, I”ve made my mind up to find a career that I can learn and grow into. Who am I? I”m a hard worker, I set high goals, and I”ve been told that I”m persistent. Now I”m not fooling myself, sir. Having been raised with the self-esteem movement so popular in schools, I used to expect my needs to be considered. Now I know that today”s work culture no longer caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations, but I believe that good things come to those who work their asses off, and that good people who reach the top of the mountain didn’t just fall there.”
Everything is a lesson from which he can learn; everything can propel him forward so long as he uses it in the right way. A chance witnessing of a late night car crash allows him to get a glimpse of freelance cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) in action, taking video of the blazing car, the injured driver, and the police rescue that unfolds. Joe is one of a few of these guys in the LA area who monitor police scanner frequencies to be the first on the scene to various accidents and crimes. They’re called nightcrawlers, and they spend their evenings on the hunt for “good” stories. (Good in this context generally means bloody.) As Joe says, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Morning news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo) explains this to Lou in an even more telling fashion: “The best and clearest way I can phrase it to you, Lou, to capture the spirit of what we air, is think of our newscast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.” This sets Lou down a path toward becoming a successful–perhaps too successful–nightcrawler and freelance cameraman.
He learns the trade like he learns everything else in the film: through trial and error, through looking at others for visual cues, seeing the proper way to react, to engage, to succeed. In short, he learns the trade like a sociopath. And he is, as he claims, a “very, very quick learner.” One thing he learns is about framing: “A proper frame not only draws the eye into a picture but keeps it there longer, dissolving the barrier between the subject and the outside of the frame.” Another thing he learns is that everything is only what it is worth and nothing more. When a fellow nightcrawler is injured, Lou’s assistant Rick questions whether they should film him because he’s “one of us.” Lou’s answer: “We’re professionals. He’s a sale.” To be a professional, then, means to look at the world impersonally and to view everything in it as a commodity. Professionalism becomes synonymous with cutthroatness. To be a professional, therefore, is to be a sociopath. Lou, then, obviously is the consummate professional.
Lou’s success begins to infect everyone around him, at one point leading Nina to claim, “Lou is inspiring all of us to reach a little higher.” And everyone in the film does reach a little higher. Jake Gyllenhaal gives his best performance yet, imbuing his Travis-Bickle-meets-Patrick-Bateman protagonist with an intensity and an absurdity of a young Nic Cage. He sports a hauntingly gaunt frame and sunken cheeks, losing his pretty boy looks and metamorphosing into a bug-eyed creep. Not to be outdone, Rene Russo reminds us why she was such a star two decades ago. At age sixty, she”s as intense, as charismatic, as sexy, and as pyrotechnic as she ever was. (Give this woman more work now! And not just as Thor’s mother, please.) Riz Ahmed also reaches a little higher, giving a phenomenal turn as Lou”s hapless sidekick Rick. Behind the camera, Robert Elswit, director Paul Thomas Anderson’s go-to cinematographer, does his best non-Anderson work here for first time director Dan Gilroy. And Gilroy himself proves he’s worth his salt in directing this darkly humorous take on media culture in this new millennium.
In that way, I guess you could say Nightcrawler is Taxi Driver meets Network for the 21st century. But it’s not just a media satire–no, its true target is something bigger and more monstrous than merely tabloid journalism, infotainment news, and network sensationalism. Lou becomes the embodiment of capitalism run amok. He’s a fascinating character, but he’s an even more fascinating symbol for everything that is wrong with America. Could there be anything more American than a police siren flinging splashes of color–red, white, and blue–across the emaciated face of Jake Gyllenhaal’s sociopathic anti-hero? After all, he’s a self-made man, one who picked himself up by his own boot-straps. He’s a small business owner, a professional, a hard worker willing do whatever is necessary to succeed. He’s a vampire sucking the blood of whatever he can find that will sustain him. He”s the American dream in a cracked lookingglass. And could there be anything more horrifying? With Lou Bloom being as American as apple pie, he shows us what”s at stake if we continue down the path our country”s been on. What’s at stake is reality itself. For what is reality when capitalism makes it, like everything else, a product? What is commodified existence? What is monetized truth?
The strongest satires are the ones that almost resemble reality, and it’s not hard to imagine a Lou Bloom blossoming in the American landscape, especially under the billboards and neon lights of the city of angels. Framed beautifully as it is by Gilroy and Elswit, our eyes are drawn to Nightcrawler. The barrier between the subject and the outside of the frame dissolves. We enter Nightcrawler. We live in Nightcrawler. Because Nightcrawler is America.
Nightcrawler is a film written and directed by Dan Gilroy. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, and Riz Ahmed. When Lou Bloom, a driven man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. Aiding him in his effort is Nina, a TV-news veteran.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Open Road Films
Design by Mina Darius
Film Still from Nightcrawler, Photography Courtesy of Open Road Films