Rated R for being overall pretty darned disturbing. It's got a lot of language, but the real stuff comes from how mundane it makes over-the-top gore feel. Glorifying gore is somehow less than this. There's a lot of dead bodies or people dying. There's also some sex stuff that happens off screen. This is one of those movies that's just really upsetting. Doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it. R.
DIRECTOR: Dan Gilroy
I refuse to believe this is a movie from the same guy who brought me Kong: Skull Island. Maybe my memory is short and I'm subjected to recency bias, but Nightcrawler might be the best movie I've seen this year. This is exciting for me on a personal level, because I finally might share an opinion with someone I disagree on every movie with. Either that, or he hated it and I'm misremembering him losing his mind on this movie. I'm going to go with the former and assume that he loved it because this is honestly going to be a career highlight for anyone involved in this movie.
Very, very rarely do I want to rewatch a movie almost immediately after finishing this. I mean, I'm probably not going to rewatch it any time soon. But I so desperately want my wife to watch this movie (and to like it!) that I would consider sitting through it again tonight. If nothing else, I'm overhyping a movie and that's going to bring a bunch of people down on me. I'm going to go further and say that it is going to make this movie hard to write about. I don't know. Maybe not. After all, the recent viewing of Scream gave me plenty to talk about. Let's see how this thing pans out.
My gut knows what Nightcrawler is trying to say. Absolutely, it's mostly in my emotions. My logic center is trying to work out a lot of stuff, though. Part of my (good) frustration comes from the fact that Lou is such a sociopath. Before I go too far, Jake Gyllenhaal makes this movie. It's such a good performance by him and the entire thing is just compelling as can be. I don't want to go too far without making that abundantly clear. Gyllenhaal is masterful in this performance. But back to Lou, not Gyllenhaal. Lou being the way he is --from what I understand: a sociopath --challenges me so much to find the theme of the film. Gilroy is pointing his satire at the world of local news. Over the course of this, I hope to come down on a side if this is a commentary on local news or journalism in general, so please be patient. But considering that so much of this is aimed at the power of character, Lou makes things confusing. That's a fair assessment (of my own writing!), because Lou confuses people around him.
Everything that Lou does fits into my understanding of sociopathy. His fundamental trait is his ability to manipulate people for his own gain. He feels no empathy for those he manipulates. There's something wonderfully appropriate about the way that he treats other people in his life. He treats the secondary characters like they are secondary characters. I would say that Lou has no arc, but he does in a really disturbing way. Much of the film is building a house of cards. Lou continues to imposter syndrome his way to the top and we keep waiting for him to go too far and get caught. And, because he does get caught, but without any consequences, that's what makes the movie interesting. Everything that Lou does is criminal. Maybe "criminal" isn't the right word because he keeps getting away with stuff. But it is heinous. Actually, throw "criminal" back on the pile. It is criminal. But the film almost becomes about how criminality is necessary for a culture to go on.
Both Nina and Detective Frontieri (both women, but I can't unpack that just yet) are aware of who Lou really is. Nina sees him as this necessary evil. Nina, wading through moral ambiguity from the word "go", needs someone like Lou, a sociopath who can do what people with moral scruples can't. He gets these extremely personal shots of people at their lowest point. Nina takes these videos from him, knowing that they are borderline Faces of Death videos because they let her keep her job and because she's the underdog. She plays the game throughout because that's what the culture expects her to do. It's odd to think that there's such a thing as a local news sweeps week. After all, news is supposed to be a reflection of reality. There are busy weeks and their are slow weeks. But even more than all of that, news is supposed to be more than gore and crime tragedy. Okay, keep all of that in mind. But what might be even more tragic is Fontieri's relationship with Lou. Fontieri reads the cards pretty clearly on Lou. From meeting him, she knows what his real deal is. She knows that he's a sociopath that will do anything to get ahead. She arrests him for the footage that leads to the death of cops, but knows that there isn't much consequence for a video jockey who provides the news. There's all those moral grey areas that she keeps playing with, like knowing that his tip did lead to the arrest of drug dealer murderers. The fact that Lou is able to expand his business after all of that is almost a commentary about how the law has to turn a blind eye to guys like Lou.
But the real satire is that of local news. I said I wasn't sure if I was going to turn this into a commentary on journalism. I kind of am because local news is run by nationwide corporations. Watch John Oliver's thing on it. It's fascinating. Anyway, Lou is the weirdest guy in the movie, but Lou is also a sponge or a mirror for those around him. Joe Loder, the other late night news hound, is Lou's inspiration. Lou, a guy who bums around citing business success classes, sees this guy leading this high adrenaline junkie lifestyle, models himself after Joe. Joe is a monster in his own right. We only empathize with Joe because Lou is grosser in juxtaposition to him. Joe would be the villain of any other piece. But the system is made for guys like Lou and Joe.
I'm having one of those moments where my personal beliefs are coming into conflict with the message of the movie, that I also agree with, synthesizing a new opinion. Since 2016, I have been on the side of journalists. I'm not talking about Fox News journalists. Me explaining exactly who I'm with would be a book all by itself, so let's leave it at that. Journalism exists to expose truths, things that people need to know. People who don't follow the news or politics are doing the world a disservice because people's lives are affected by ignorance. With the rise of Donald Trump, we saw some journalists come out swinging, refusing to allow this man to bully the truth out of them. It was a Woodward and Bernstein thing. Well, at least a Woodward thing because he wrote Rage. But as much as I respected journalists during Trump and beyond, I have to come to a concession that Nightcrawler solidified. As much as there were great journalists who were working to stop his tyrannical powers from spreading, Trump also wouldn't be in power if it wasn't for ratings and giving Trump as much airtime as he could possibly want. SNL, the same criticism goes to you. You can say these things are horrible all you want, but you are partially the reason that they exist.
As much as I give some responsibility to Frontieri, I'm also looking at the journalists who aren't Nina. Nina is pretty corrupt from moment one. But the other people in that newsroom vocalize their real problems with Lou's footage. And yet, it still goes forward. It's kind of the same thing that happens in Bombshell. You can vocalize your abhorrence all day long, but at a certain point you are part of the problem. Sure, what I'm taking away from this movie is the performance by Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed (I have nothing to really say about him, but he's amazing). But if you wanted to throw the dark side of journalism under the bus, this is the movie that does it. And it stars real news anchors? I looked up one of the news anchors, who kept their real names for the movie. It's so fascinating that they are fundamentally playing themselves, but lambasting the very thing that made them who they are. It's really interesting.
Honestly, Nightcrawler hits so hard. It's one of those films like There Will Be Blood where I keep going back to it every few years just to relook at it. It hits. Hard.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.