If Nightcrawler were an indictment of how the MEDIA, all caps, manipulates crime scene footage to drive ratings, it would be very heavy-handed. Luckily, the MEDIA’s manipulation is just a given. This is what the MEDIA does. Nightcrawler is just a profile of the type of person who can give the MEDIA what they want to do what the MEDIA does.
Lou (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a scrap metal thief who stumbles onto the scene of an automobile accident and watches in awe as freelance videographers film the wreck. Lou learns fast and begins selling his footage to Channel 6 late shift news producer Nina (Rene Russo).
What a character Lou is, this wide-eyed opportunist. You know he’s wrong just by the way he speaks and carries himself, but he’s endlessly compelling. You just have to see what he’s going to pull next. He is refreshingly direct, but completely inappropriate. The eccentricities that make Lou a success are far more interesting than any further analysis of the MEDIA. It also provides the film with a lot of humor through Lou’s social and technical faux pas.
News chasing is undeniably exciting, like any competitive industry would be. The way this new guy undercuts other videographers is relevant. It would be unethical, if there were any ethics in what they were doing in the first place. It gives us that rush, questioning it all the while and climaxes in a Mad Max/O.J. Simpson fever dream.
The score plays triumphant music ironically, I assume ironically, because Lou’s triumphs are sleazy. Nightcrawler is also a bit of a how to manual, although I would caution aspiring viewers that if they kept Lou’s hours and ate at food trucks, they would not look like Jake Gyllenhaal.
As I said, the portrayal of the MEDIA is rather blatant. Nightcrawler just assumes that we know “if it bleeds, it leads” and that they’re selling white fear to rich people. We’ve been talking about this for decades now, so this is a good approach for forwarding the conversation. Apparently we won’t stop enabling the MEDIA to sell us fear, so maybe getting to know the people who deliver it will help.
Nina’s control room scene is both totally on the nose and expertly professional. She gets downright orgasmic when she hears Lou’s latest pitch. I didn’t even realize until the end credits that Nina’s full name is Nina Romina. That just sounds like a modern fairy tale name, adding to the mythic quality Nightcrawler achieves. Her approval is played like a romantic consummation. That’s how Lou sees it.
Nitpick: There’s a Dunkin Donuts coffee mug. We just got our first Dunkin Donuts in L.A. last month. That couldn’t have been around when they were filming, unless Dan Gilroy anticipated that that’s what graveyard shifters would all be drinking by the time Nightcrawler came out!
Nightcrawler is a strong directorial debut from writer Gilroy, with a bold take on a morally complex situation. It’s a tale for our time, as video equipment becomes more lightweight and affordable. There will be more Lous out there so there’s probably no imploring them to exercise better judgement, but perhaps it can warn the rest of us to beware of the Lous of the world.