Honing his intense-acting skills with a steady, slightly psychotic gaze, Gyllenhaal incorporates the figure of Lou Bloom, who’s thieving his way through LA’s building sites in search of sellable metal when he witnesses a night-time accident and its coverage by reporters selling footage to local television. Immediately sensing a match between petty crime and petty morals, he harnesses his compulsive ambition, buys himself a camcorder and begins stalking disaster via police frequencies, selling his work to the highest bidder.
Crisply edited, this grimly well-acted satire on how and why the media services our vicarious delight in other people’s misfortune takes place almost entirely at night, with neon-lit studio and flickering street scenes that turn the term ‘noir’ into a formal principle reminiscent of De Palma’s 1980s work. A much explored fascination with heroines of nocturnal urbanity (L.A. Confidential) finds a credibly modern counterpart in Russo’s portrayal of a graveyard shift TV producer desperate for ratings. But by situating its anti-hero just beyond the pale of normality and succumbing to a couple of plot glitches, Gilroy relativises the movie’s potential to achieve enduring fable status, settling instead for an incident-driven commentary on current tabloid morality.
Nightcrawler | Directed by Dan Gilroy (USA 2014) with Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton. Starts November 13.
Originally published in issue #132, November 2014.