NIGHTCRAWLER (2014, Dan Gilroy)
Disclaimer: I saw this film two weeks ago, and due to intense work obligations, had been unable to write a proper review until now. So this writeup will be brief and a little lacking in the kind of detail I would have liked following my screening. Hopefully I remember enough specifics to make a cogent analysis.
There’s a great, telling moment in NIGHTCRAWLER when Lou is in the control room at a TV station, watching a field reporter on a monitor. The reporter has an IFB in his ear and is being directed by a crew member at the controls with a mic. Upon hearing the reporter speak, Lou shouts at the monitor, expecting everything he says to be heard. The news director has to tell Lou, “He can’t hear you.” But that’s Lou for you: hopelessly ignorant in many ways, blinded by his warped relationship to the media. He doesn’t see a distinction between the news on screen and himself — the line is blurred, and thus he thinks he can just shout into the void and the television will hear him. As a brief window into the mind of this creepy psycho, that moment is pretty perfect.
And boy, does Gyllenhaal nail his performance as Lou. It isn’t just the bug eyes and breathless speech patterns; it’s how he slithers into positions of power with manipulative negotiations. You don’t necessarily buy what he’s selling, but you buy that his adversaries are listening. Lou is ambitious, and his moral values are corrupt — but that, says Gilroy, is the state of the current American dream. Yes, this is a condemnation of the news media — which often crosses over into the territory of creating the news instead of reporting on it — but that’s really just a gloss for a story that’s more about the economy, and the deals we strike to get ahead. Because if it were just about local news, then it would be a little outdated. Who even watches local news anymore? Who gets their information from channel 11? We get it online, on social media, from blogs and YouTube videos. I can’t remember the last time I watched the local NBC affiliate deliver the 6pm stories of the day in Los Angeles. (Though there’s a pretty funny joke in the embarrassingly bland, obsolete name Lou comes up with for his company: Video Production News; it made me smile every time it was uttered in the film).
But I do remember the last time I had to decide between Coldwater Canyon and Lauren Canyon — I make that decision every day. And those details, the ones that have Lou and Rick arguing in their car while chasing ambulances, they’re what gives this story relevance and immediacy. Not to mention Gilroy’s near-exploitative camera work. As a writer, he’s been spotty — TWO FOR THE MONEY is a ghastly pile of studio dogshit (co-starring NIGHTCRAWLER’s Rene Russo, which is not a coincidence; she’s Gilroy’s wife), and THE BOURNE LEGACY set a world record for dialogue containing the word “chems.” But now with more control over his product, Gilroy has let his skills shine. That car chase towards the end is absolutely gripping, edited with immense precision (despite some continuity errors that are who-cares given how relentless the pace is) and dramatically interesting to boot. There’s something a little bit cliche and obvious about criticizing the “if it bleeds it leads” mentality of journalism, but luckily NIGHTCRAWLER has more on its mind.