Monday, November 3, 2014

Nightcrawler: Ethically Challenged Journalism At Its Best

Nightcrawler: Poster | A Constantly Racing Mind
S ubmitted for your approval, or at least for your inspection. a mister Luis Bloom, a man who’s down on his luck, and has been bouncing from one job to another in search of greener pastures. Luis is hoping that his drive and ambition will get him the fame and recognition that he craves. However, Luis has a problem; he lacks a sense of ethical standards. Is it a flaw in his character, or perhaps a boon? You decide. Jake Gyllenhaal ("Prisoners," "The Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time", "Source Code") plays a thin gaunt silver-tongued bull-shitter who spends much of his time on the internet learning how to get ahead in life. From reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People," He is a fountain of self-help literature. He repeats much of this information only to show off to others, or to gain the advantage over his "friends" or competitors. I say friends in quotations because Luis doesn’t really have any friends. "Nightcrawler." is an intense ride with the freelance video-journalist who chase ambulances and listen to police scanners looking for the next breaking story that they can sell to competing for television stations. 

"If it leads, it bleeds." - Joe Loder

Don Henley had a big hit in 1982 with a song he co-wrote with Danny Kortchmar that deals with the sensationalizing of the TV news. The song, "Dirty Laundry" discusses how television deals with death and disasters and how it affects TV ratings with little regard to the human element. Writer ("The Bourne Legacy," "Real Steel") and director Dan Gilroy, takes this concept, a step further and personalizes the experience for us. Luis Bloom is desperate for work and is willing to steel chain-link fence and manhole covers to resell. Luis has the gift of articulation, however, it comes off as creepy. Jake reportedly lost 30 pounds for this film to appear haunted, dark-eyed, and hungry. While on his way home on the L.A. freeway after failing to get a job with a construction company he comes upon an accident. Without any regard for safety, or interfering with the rescue workers, he watches as freelance news-stringer Joe Loder (Bill Paxton - "Edge of Tomorrow") films the rescue. Without the reservations or the social acumen that a reasonable person would display, Louis starts asking Joe about if the film will end up on the news, and if so, how much money will it sell for – information that one doesn't typically ask strangers. Luis is also a thief. During the chain-link fence robbery, Luis beats up a security guard so he takes and pawns the security guard’s watch. Luis is calculating and asks direct questions, all with a smile on his face. Street smart and unafraid to negotiate, he "sells" the pawnbroker on the watch and the bike he stole. With the money, he buys a camcorder and a police scanner. After attempting to make his first big break into video-journalism, he gets in the way of paramedics trying to save a gunshot victim and gets all of the freelancers kicked out of the area. He takes in the video to local TV stations whose ratings are at the bottom with the promise that his images are better and closer. Meeting with the older but still striking Rene Russo ("Thor: The Dark World," "Ransom") as Nina Romina the vampire shift news chief. She likes Luis's footage and decides to buy his shots and reneging on Joe Loder's video. Rene is director Dan Gilroy's wife.

Nightcrawler:Rene Russo | A Constantly Racing Mind
Taking Joe's advice, Luis invests his first check on a better camera with a directional microphone. He also meets and hires Rick (Riz Ahmed - "The Reluctant Fundamentalist"). At this point, we realize that Luis represents corporate America. He is uncaring, self-righteous, and politically correct in his pontificating on why Rick should work for him for free as an intern before he tells him what the job is. Gyllenhaal is a convincing prick who, as the owner of his own independent business, is willing to take advantage of those at a financial disadvantage and make his fortune off their labor. Rick begs Luis to pay him something, as he has no place to live and is starving. Luis agrees to pay him $30 dollars a night. His job is to navigate Luis to the news locations with his phone's GPS and to watch the car and other jobs as required. One has to take note of how Jake's character handles mistakes that his new employee makes. He explains the mistake, praises Rick for what he has done well, and then tells him clearly if he makes the same mistake again, he will fire him. This is the opposite of the standard sandwich technique of praise, disappointment in behavior, then more praise with a dollop of encouragement that the employee will do better next time. 

"Screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut." Nina Romina

Around the turn of the last century, the state of journalism in the United States was what we would call now tabloid, but back then, it was called yellow. Luis isn't trained in ethical journalism but learns online and by observing what the newscasters and by default what draws viewers to watch one news program over another. Nina is willing to push the limits in order to chase ratings. The capitalistic media runs on advertising and advertisers spend their dollars where they know that there are more eyes on that medium and their message is heard. Living in the 21st century, viewers, in general, have become more desensitized by violence since the time when a family would watch the war in Vietnam while they eat their dinner. Luis operates as the industrialist during the late 19th century and early 20th century, persistent and unscrupulous. Luis is also an old school in how he conducts his business focusing on building rapport with the people he sells videos to and he does it in person. Bill Paxton's character Joe represents the technological change in the news industry. He tells Luis that he doesn't have to actually come to the station to deliver his videos, but can upload them to an FTP site and sell them to the highest bidder from there. Luis, on the other hand, rejects Joe and his business model for his own direct and personal ladder-climbing style that has a Machiavellian twist to it. "Nightcrawler" features Los Angeles newscasters playing themselves that give the film that added a sense of realism.

Nightcrawler:Jake Gyllenhaal | A Constantly Racing Mind

This is not the first time that we see Jake Gyllenhaal obsessed with chasing crime and the need for the spotlight that comes with it. In 2007, Gyllenhaal starred in "Zodiac.” He played the determined cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle whose penchant for libraries and codes drives him to search independently for the Zodiac killer that plagued California in the late '60s and '70s. Following leads that the police either have eliminated or don't have the evidence to follow, doggedly track witnesses while losing his second wife and children to his obsession. In both films, Gyllenhaal's character's personality is ferocious readers and socially awkward. Both are driven to an end, as, Robert Graysmith, in "Zodiac," the end was writing a book in order to quiet those gears in the head that drive you mad when you have ideas that the world should hear. Luis, on the other hand, his goal is to become the leading freelance TV news company in Los Angeles. Both seem to get what they want.

"Crime happens everywhere but it is news when it happens in the suburbs." Nina Romina

From the moment we see Jake Gyllenhaal on the screen to the point where he sells his first story to Nina's station; we see the development of a character that on one level is in some ways a parody of the American work ethic. Instead, that parody has depicted the terms that you can become an expert on any subject with the help of the Internet. However, that sentiment changes as he manipulates Nina into a position of sexual as well as professional subservience. Gilroy shows a world of journalism versus sensationalism is the norm with the latter winning out. "Nightcrawler" is a mirror into the American psyche that reflects the fascination of the minds of the average viewer who slow down to see the accident on the side of the road. For Luis, people and relationships are a means to an end, which in many ways reflects how businesses operate in general. 

The news events are also just a means to an end and invading a crime scene and possibly moving or destroying evidence for the sake of the shot is business as usual for Luis and his budding TV News Production company. His interactions with Rick are deplorable, but best described by Robert Elswit's ("There Will Be Blood") cinematography as they careen through the streets of L.A. you can see that Gilroy and Gyllenhaal mean this to be a visceral film with the dislike for Luis's methods coming from within. The dislike for Luis is summed up when he lies to the police (Michael Hyatt), withholding evidence, and obstructing justice. James Newton Howard's score provides a backdrop for the emotions that emanate from the screen as Gyllenhaal's intensity rages with each scene. "Nightcrawler" is an excellent film that is not only entertaining but will leave the socially conscious individual with a sense of self-awareness the next time you watch your local news. “Nightcrawler" runs just shy of two hours and the MPAA rates it a solid R for graphic images, and language. 

Movie Data

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller 
Year:  2014
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton, Michael Hyatt 
Director: Dan Gilroy
Producer(s): Jennifer Fox, Tony Gilroy, Jake Gyllenhaal, David Lancaster, Michel Litvak
Writer: Dan Gilroy
Rating: R
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: 10/31/2014

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