Nightcrawler: Creature of the night

A still from Nightcrawler.

A still from Nightcrawler.  


The appeal of horror, Stephen King noted famously, has always been consistent. Most of us will slow down to look at a car accident, despite the gore. Most of us are fascinated by the macabre and can’t bring ourselves to look away.

That voyeuristic instinct in all of us underwrites the cannibalistic frenzy that characterises low-grade crime journalism on TV with its “If it bleeds, it leads” mantra. And in his stunning directorial debut, Dan Gilroy trains an unblinking camera on that social phenomenon, without moralising overmuch, but leaving us awash in a tide of creeped-out disquiet at the utter lack of morality that defines it all.

The medium through whom Gilroy narrates that story in Nightcrawler is Louis Bloom, a down-and-out hustler in Los Angeles who appears to not have a single ethical strand in his wiry, hyaena-esque frame. Bloom, who starts off as a petty thief, stumbles one night on the vulture-pack of ‘nightcrawlers’— freelance cameramen who specialise in getting to the scene of a crime or accident in double-quick time to record every bloody detail, which they then sell to mercenary TV networks that compete for viewers’ eyeballs by pandering to the lowest common denominator of taste.

Bloom turns into a creepy-crawly creature of the night, equipping himself with a handycam, a police scanner radio, a sidekick — and the determination to do whatever it takes to stay ahead of the rat-pack. Even if it means crossing the ‘police lines’ at crime scenes (metaphorically —and on occasion quite literally).

Genre: Thriller
Director: Dan Gilroy
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton
Storyline: A down-and-out LA hustler feeds — and feasts on — local TV networks’ appetite for blood and gore.
Bottomline: A creepy but gripping tale that mirrors the ghoulish monstrosity that passes for crime journalism

But on that treadmill of ‘tabloid television’, Bloom begins to slide down the slippery slope. Pretty soon, he is ‘reconstructing’ crime scenes for camera-worthiness, the better to package his narrative. From there to becoming a ‘player’ who ‘directs’ the course of bloody police action is just a natural ‘progression’.

Gilroy’s directorial touch is gifted, but what additionally brings it all together is the stand-out performance by the three leading stars and some brilliant cinematography. Jake Gyllenhaal essays the role of his life as Bloom, for which he lost some 10 kg because, evidently, he visualised the character as a hungry coyote. There is a mesmeric quality to his unblinking eyes, and his manner of spouting management-speak has a touch of black comedy to it. His transformation from tentative and blundering rookie to evil master of the game is masterly.

Rene Russo is bewitchingly bitchy as the producer at the local news network, Bloom’s partner-in-crime, who will do whatever it takes to get ratings up. And Riz Ahmed is endearingly vulnerable as Bloom’s petrified sidekick who is desperate enough to strike a deal with the devil.

Overall, a movie that will creep you out with the ‘anything goes’ credo of ‘tabloid television’.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 6:09:36 AM |

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