Art & Culture

Hollywood has always had a preference for its serious films to come with a message attached, which we can all agree with. 'War is hell;' 'Racism is bad;''If we were all nice to each other, the world would be a better place.' Not exactly radical thinking, you'll agree. The message of Nightcrawler is hardly going to rock any boats either – 'journalism is full of scumbags.' Oh my god, why didn't someone tell me; quick, I have to cancel my subscription to The Daily Mail.

It's not that I've got anything against messages in general, but I think they should contain a little more in the way of complexity and ambiguity, and I also prefer not to be hit over the head by them for 2 hours. We get it. Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a creep, a bottom-feeding, mononmaniacal, do-whatever-it-takes-to-get-there-first manipulative pyschotic sociopath. You wouldn't want him within fifty miles of your house – especially if there's been an armed robbery.

So why is he our constant companion from start to finish in this long trawl through the seamy side of L.A.? Because, like Rupert Pupkin in King Of Comedy, he is the vehicle for the morality tale. Lou wants to get ahead in the world, by whatever means are necessary. He has no friends, and no interest in people apart from whatever they can do to benefit him. He has no special skills either, until he discovers that there is an opening for a guy with a car, a video camera and a police radio who's wiling to head to the nearest car accident and film the victim lying in a pool of their own blood.

And he enjoys it. The TV stations buy the footage and broadcast it, he gets paid, and it fills him with a sense of meaning and purpose. What could possibly go wrong? 

Bloom, as played by Gyllenhaal (who lost 30 lbs for the role) has hollowed out and haunted eyes, greased back hair, and a feral stare. Just in case there was any danger that we might think of liking him, he treats his intern/employee to an endless stream of bland management speak, when not explaining why he can't pay him. Sometimes he plays eager-to-please (with TV executive Rene Russo), sometimes he plays alpha male. At no point is he ordinarily human. Which makes him – and the film – somewhat less than engaging.

In a world where phone hacking has become part of the wallpaper, we have no very high opinion of journalists anyway, and Lou is just a more extreme example of the breed. What is the film telling us that we don't already know? Very little. It's not a bad film. Credit to Gyllenhaal for his unflinching commitment to the role, but mad staring eyes will only take you so far, and one of the reasons we like him as an actor is for his delightful smile, in films like End Of Watch. And if you want to see him playing a man who is obsessive, then you'd be much better off watching David Fincher's Zodiac

Writer/director Dan Gilroy obviously thinks he's onto something important here, judging by the excesses inflicted by the score, and the relentless way that Bloom gets deeper and deeper into moral madness. But he should take a lesson from his brother Tony, who made the excellent Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney. Now there's a film about moral ambivalence, with complexity, paradox and a complete absence of easy answers. Nightcrawler is like the poor modern day cousin of Network, in which a crazed Peter Finch started screaming "We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more." Bloom is clearly as mad as hell and everyone is taking it. Welcome to Sleaze City.


Phil Raby 

Front Row Films 

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