The crime thriller Nightcrawler—the major motion picture debut for director Dan Gilroy—is an earnest attempt at showing the underbelly of Los Angeles and the perverse nature of the media industry. The film follows a maniac nobody named Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal). Bloom makes money by stealing wiring and copper and selling it to construction sites through the black market. Wandering the street jobless, he happens to witness a car crash and is exposed to a culture of freelance video journalists making a living off of daily tragedies.
This incident inspires Bloom to start his own freelance video journalist service with intern Rick (Riz Ahmed), essentially profiting off of the suffering of others. He develops a business relationship with one of the local stations news directors, Nina (Rene Russo), who strictly seeks out tragic stories involving minority-on-white violence. During one of his routine video recordings, Lou witnesses a murder and, instead of turning over the evidence to police, decides to selectively craft a news story of his own and solve the murder mystery for himself.
Dan Gilroy wrote an ambitious screenplay, addressing the negative impact of increasingly sensationalist media and the role of truth in narrative. The writing succeeds at times, and fails gloriously at others. Gilroy’s success comes in the contrast between the two main characters, Lou and Nina. We’re led to believe that emotionless Lou’s disposition towards violence and destruction—coupled with constantly utilizing humans for his own needs—makes him by far the most morose and evil character in the film.
Nina, however, is a potentially more sinister character. She makes a living off of stories which depict minorities attacking white America. Even when evidence is ascertained—stating a homicide is in fact a drug deal gone wrong—she decides to withhold that information from the public, creating a captivating story that keeps viewers watching. Her manufactured large-scale mass hysteria is arguably so much more terrifying than anything Lou could have done. The artificiality of Nightcrawler’s plot is best exemplified by the nighttime neon color palate of the film’s Los Angeles.
Gilroy raises the question of the importance of constructed narrative and its tenuous relationship with truth. He wants us to challenge the Ninas of the world, break the constructed narratives, ascertain the truth behind the story, and finally understand that maybe we construct narratives to hide from the sad truth behind events.
Despite the writer-director’s stance on the state of communications, the film does not have the enchanting plot that is required to drive the moral of the story. The pacing of the film is off, with its main conflict finding quick resolution over the span of 20 to 25 minutes. The remaining hour of the film is strictly exposition. Gyllenhaal’s performance is stellar, but there are no other redeeming characters within the film. The film is miscast, and squanders the talent it does have. For instance, Kevin Rahm, the wonderful actor who plays Ted Chaough in AMC’s Mad Men, is given such a minor part that it almost seems an unnecessary role.
The more important characters in the story are not as developed as they should be. Rahm’s Frank Kruse is the only moral character within the film, forcing him to be the only true antagonist in the film. Kruse, however, is probably the film’s most underdeveloped character, which in turn leaves him an unappealing antagonist and particularly underwhelming when compared to Bloom or Nina. The film is a classic example of high concept and bad execution. Nightcrawler is still a great character study, but much of the potential of its storyline is left untapped.
Featured Image Courtesy of Open Road Films