Review: Nightcrawler, a gorgeous and disturbing rollercoaster  

Originally written for the UWM Post here:

What would you do to get a leg up on someone? “Nightcrawler” is obsessed with those transactions. Social levers and power struggle mark this back alley thriller that has a dark sense of humor.

Louis Bloom looks like he has had a rough go of it. Malnourished and bug-eyed, Jake Gyllenhaal looks like he lost a chunk of weight to portray the wormy, determined main character of Nightcrawler. Like his main character, the film’s director Dan Gilroy is hungry. Gilroy proves himself, not content with mere competency in his first outing in the director’s chair, Gilroy kills it.

This film looks great and the understated transition from film during the day to digital at night lends each time period a distinct feel. While geographically the same, this choice creates a more dangerous atmosphere for the “nightcrawlers” to do business in.

Bloom is a self-made “independent news contractor” or “nightcrawler” who listens to a police scanner and chases accidents to get bloody, exploitative video footage for the next morning’s local news.

We are first introduced to Louis Bloom stealing some fencing to sell for scrap. He is caught, but overpowers a security guard and steals his watch. Without this bit of characterization Bloom might have been a more sympathetic character. Bloom tries to parlay his sale of stolen metal into a job. He is turned down because he is a thief but when this is pointed out, he is offended.

It’s his veneer of professionalism and do-it-yourself entrepreneurship that hide Bloom’s real “win at all costs” ambitions. The Netflix show “House of Cards” examined this same unrelenting amoral ambition in the highest reaches of The United States Federal Government. “Nightcrawler” however deals with a level of desperation foreign to the upper class power struggles of “House of Cards.” The similar device of letting the audience see a private, evil act at the beginning of the story really stood out. Frank Underwood of “House of Cards” kills a dog and likes it. Louis Bloom steals to live, and sometimes just for himself.

Louis Bloom wants to get a better car. He gets it. He wants more employees. He gets those. He wants to get laid, and deals with that problem like any other business matter. In formal business terms, Bloom lets his business associate know exactly what chips he has to play. She rebuffs his advance until he makes what she brings to this negotiation clear, nothing. She is on the edge of being fired from an under-performing local news station. Bloom’s gruesome footage has propped up the ratings, now he has control.

But at the same time he’s desperate, she is desperate. The low ratings make the TV station desperate. Bloom hires an assistant who is desperate for a job. As long as he has control over someone, a way to exercise power, he can get what he wants. It’s when his competitors are doing great and he has no legal power over them that he takes things into his own hands. His subordinate uses Bloom’s own negotiation tactics against him. As the stunning tense climax of the film shows, Bloom does not go down without a fight.

A common criticism of “House of Cards” is true here as well. The pieces tend to fall just right for Bloom to get his way. But like “House of Cards,” this gorgeous and disturbing roller coaster with an evil opportunistic man is everything you hoped it would be.

“Nightcrawler” is now playing at AMC Mayfair.


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