Screened Out – Nightcrawler

By : Stephen Miller
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Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, Riz Ahmed

Nightcrawler was originally released on Halloween night, very befitting the creepy character it focuses on. However, the film’s first run didn’t get the attention it really deserved. This week, Nightcrawler slinked back into theater, hoping to garner some more attention for Gyllenhaal’s slimy performance. We’re now in the midst of award season, and – though rereleasing might seem like a crass move – his performance is honestly worth another look.

Nightcrawler is a slim little drama about self-employed people who listen to police scanners and rush to accidents, crimes, and other gory tragedies. They film this awful stuff, and then they sell to the news, specifically, the highest bidder.

Immediately, we can sense that something’s seriously wrong with Gyllenhaal. He’s a loner, a night owl who lives in his Spartan apartment in L.A., focusing on his computer. He takes online courses in self-motivation and he looks for any way to earn money. He talks at people, not to them, parroting back the motivational pap he’s heard. Other than that, he is a gaunt, chilling cypher of a human – with a glassy, unblinking stare, and likely, without a soul.

The director's wife, Rene Russo, presents a laser-sharp news director.

The director’s wife, Rene Russo, presents a laser-sharp news director.

When swiping scrap metal and stealing bikes doesn’t get Gyllenhaal the lifestyle he wants, he starts to notice the vultures at police scenes. He questions other videographers like Paxton, and soon, Gyllenhaal’s in the business, too. It isn’t long before he’s studying the shots and finding ways to mess with crime scenes to get the best, most profitable angle.

One can sense that this film was made in DIY style. The reported budget was a paltry $8.5 million. This is the first time in the director’s chair for writer Dan Gilroy (Real Steel, The Bourne Legacy). He includes his wife Russo as a heartless news director. His brother, Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) produces, along with Gyllenhaal.

L.A. looks dark and gritty and surprisingly claustrophobic. The film switches between handheld and static shot with logic and ease.

That doesn’t mean the film is perfect. It’s too easy to see this as a sequel to Network, the first instance most of us heard the term “if it bleeds, it leads.” Nightcrawler shows us how bad the news business has gotten, but it’s more a prolonged montage than actual story arc. As a character study, it gives us a psychopath instead of someone we could relate to, some innocent sucked into the viscera of gross-out newscasts.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

In that sense, Nightcrawler feels slightly satirical, moving away from the realism of Network and into the realm of American Psycho. It doesn’t help that the music is sometimes too peppy for the sense of dread Nightcrawler should be conveying.

However, Gyllenhaal’s disturbing performance is still riveting. He lost over 30 pounds to portray this hollow, hungry character. His skeletal stare, and his calculating nature, will leave audiences with chills, It may even some of us to turn off those grotesque newscasts.

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