Nightcrawler (2014)

nightcrawlerAfter spending the last 10 years in the DC area, it was time for the Q’s to pick up and move down South. Naturally we had your normal set of concerns: will it be easy to navigate? How southern will it be? Will we make any friends? Will there be enough to do?  Honestly, though, what I was most concerned about was finding a good place to watch movies! As much as I dislike DC, it does have a lot of independent theaters and opportunities to do fun movie things; midnight movie showings, psychotronic society, etc. Thanks to the wonder of the internet, we quickly discovered our new area has quite a few offerings of its own; Monday night b-movie trash, old flicks showing three out of four Wednesdays every month for $5 a pop, and an accidentally-discovered second-run theater with even better ticket prices: $2.25! When I saw the last was playing Nightcrawler I figured why not give it a shot: I didn’t know anything about it except that Jake Gyllenhaal was in it and that people had said good things. I figured it was worth a gamble of $2.25. I was right!

Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is out of work and desperate for money. His current cash flow comes from skulking the streets of Los Angeles collecting scrap metal for cash, but he’s not beyond beating up a security guard for his watch if he has to. As I’m sure you can imagine, it’s not a very lucrative career. Bloom doesn’t want to be this way; in fact he tries very hard to find a legitimate position, but no prospective employers are biting – not even when Bloom mentions his online business courses! Despite a rousing speech lauding his qualifications, Bloom is turned down for yet another job. But on his way home, Bloom fortuitously finds himself at the scene of a car crash. While rescue crews work to free the driver from the wreckage, Bloom is far more interested in the cameramen gunning for a front-row spot. After the crash is cleared away and the commotion has left the scene, he probes the main cameraman, Joe Loder, (Bill Paxton) about his field of work. Loder explains the equipment and philosophy of his profession:  race to record disaster scenes and sell their graphic footage to local news outfits. Impressed by Loder’s truck-full of equipment, he assumes it must be a lucrative career, and thus his new path is chosen.

The very next day, Bloom sets out to get some equipment of his own. He trades in a stolen bike for a camcorder and a police scanner, and soon he even hires an “intern” named Rick, a homeless youth, to help him navigate the streets of LA as he races to the scenes of disaster in hopes of getting there before his competition. It doesn’t take him long to learn the ropes, and in a short while he finds himself offering some hot footage to local morning news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo). Impressed with his work, she asks for more, advising he make it bloody, gory, minority-on-white crime in nice neighborhoods. Impressed with his check, Bloom is more than happy to oblige.

For a while, Romina and Bloom’s professional relationship is extremely lucrative for both of them. Romina is able to get her ratings up, and Bloom can afford to upgrade more than just his shitty camera equipment. Unfortunately, it’s only a short while in until Romina realizes what kind of guy she is dealing with. While she initially admired Bloom’s unflinching ambition, she comes to realize exactly how dangerous a man he is. Bloom is the personification of unfettered capitalism; morality and compassion are secondary to the bottom line. As you can imagine, the film takes some very disturbing turns, and I’m not about to ruin those for you by going on and on about the plot; I’ve probably said too much as it is.

As I mentioned before, I went into the theater not knowing at all what Nightcrawler was about. As the film wore on, I became increasingly excited about where it was going. The story is engrossing in and of itself, but it wouldn’t have been half the film it is without Gyllenhaal leading the way. His creepy intensity drives the entire film; I don’t doubt for a second Bloom’s ghoulish reverence for the health of his burgeoning company. Gyllenhaal has managed to play a character only Ayn Rand could love; a truly despicable human being.

I must say though, I’m left wondering what made Bloom the way he is. The movie is peppered with lines about how difficult it is to get anywhere in an economy like this. As has been well-documented these days, we live in a time of great income inequality, and Bloom, having just recently taken all those online business courses, must of course know the only folks who are successful are really fucking successful. He’s done his best to get by honestly, though perhaps he hasn’t exactly taken the smartest route, he is a man who wants to work. Why should making ends meet be so difficult for him? In the cut-throat, social-darwinistic world of business, it’s kill or be killed, and Bloom isn’t about to be killed. So who can blame him for not just wanting to survive, but to thrive?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not find Bloom’s character sympathetic in the least. What I do find sympathetic is his situation, and I think the film does a fantastic job of pitting our economic climate against an average Joe. Being educated and driven is clearly not enough to get by in today’s America; you must also be bloodthirsty and relentless. The story is shown to us almost matter-of-factly, like yes – of course these are the lengths a successful businessperson will go to in order to achieve greatness. What is highlighted for me the most is the idea that perhaps the most dangerous thing about steep income inequality is not need, but the desperation it breeds in those who don’t want to be left behind.

Nightcrawler is a difficult movie to watch (I got the Fremdscham more than a few times), but it is also riveting (yeah, I used that word, so what?) and rewarding. Though I must wonder what a true libertarian would think of it. Q had said he could envision Bloom being held up as a true hero of Modern Capitalism… but I think even he is a little too despicable for such people to laud. But hey, what do I know? I just watch movies.


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