NIGHTCRAWLER ISN'T THE NEO-NOIR MASTERPIECE YOU WERE EXPECTING; It's Just Another Muddled Movie With A Good Performance from Jake Gyllenhaal...
By Don Stradley
One little detail kept me from enjoying Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler. It happens when Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), an aspiring news photographer, walks into a Los Angeles TV news station to make his first sale. He simply walks in, like he's walking into a grocery store, and makes his way to the editing room to meet with the news producer. No one stops him.
A few years ago, I was in New York to visit a friend who works at channel 13. I was stopped in the lobby by security. I was asked to show my ID, and sign a ledger. The security guard acted as if he couldn't make out my signature, which created more delays. When he was finally convinced, he issued me a temporary building pass. Then I had to wait in the lobby while my friend came down to get me. Watching Gyllenhaal stroll into a TV station unmolested made me distrust the entire premise of the movie, for it was clearly being made by someone who was clueless. I can't imagine that anyone in the movie business has never had to enter a major metropolitan building. Granted, the news station in the movie is supposed to be the worst one in LA, but still, I'll bet you they'd have security.
This gaffe was unfortunate, because prior to this the movie had some potential. The first time we see Lou Bloom, he's scuffling with a security guard at a junkyard. (This is a world apparently where junkyards have security, but not news stations). Lew is a hustler. He steals stuff and sells it. We also see him selling a bike at a pawn shop, claiming he once used it in a Spanish bike marathon. He has a pretty good gift of gab. He smiles a lot and has an impish laugh. But we sense he's trying too hard to impress people. Gyllenhaal plays Lew like a cross between Anthony Perkins in Psycho, and Eric Roberts in Star 80. Nervous laughter gives way to fearless posturing. He spouts a lot of verbiage he picked up on the internet. He likes on-line courses. He wants to be a businessman, or the head of a company. A 'can-do' attitude is all it takes.
One night Lou happens across a car wreck. He notices photographers are shooting the carnage. When he learns they're going to sell their footage to the highest bidder, he thinks he's found his calling. Soon, he's on the street like the other nightcrawlers, filming as much blood as possible. We get the message - the news industry treats life like garbage, or stolen property, and a sociopath like Lou is going to be a success in such a cold-blooded business. How do we know he's a sociopath? Because we endure a hackneyed scene where he stares into a mirror and screams at himself. There's also a scene where another photographer is badly injured and hauled away in an ambulance. We see Lou filming him, his own face looking skeletal and inhuman; he's become the Nosferatu of night time ambulance chasers.
There's not much else to report. The movie wants to say something about the news media, and about how the internet is leaving us soulless, but these ideas were trite 10 years ago. Lou does some bad things. He gets in trouble. He's confronted by some cops who pose and scowl like the cops we see on TV. Lou weasels out of his predicament with the sort of shit luck that often blesses movie psychopaths. The pat ending may leave impressionable viewers with a chill. Or maybe not. The shame of it all is how hard Gyllenhaal works in the role. At times it seems he's just bugging his eyes out and grinning like a crazy puppet, but he's a good actor. He can almost fool you into thinking that the rest of the movie is as good as he is.