Saturday, November 01, 2014

"Nightcrawler": Jake Gyllenhaal goes cyclist-smooth and hungry as he follows a creed of "do ask, do act, do tell" in his ambulance-chasing "citizen journalism"

Nightcrawler”, by Dan Gilroy (his only directing credit on imdb; he has written many thrillers) does indeed pose troubling questions about the whole news industry and citizen journalism – assuming that the kinds of pressures to “get the scoop” on breaking crime news really does drive local television news station profits. 
Jake Gyllenhaal (who is also a producer) plays Louis Bloom, an unemployed hacker with a lot of street smarts, and someone who is good at manipulating people verbally.  He would make a good debt collector, and enforcer.  And then there is the way his gaunt and “hungry” appearance is managed for the film, otherwise “ruined”.  He must have lost weight for the role (typical story), and he has also obviously shaved his chest and arms – sacrificing the external trappings of manhood not to look “thmooth” or to go into drag (he even did that for SNL) but just to look wasted, like a plucked “chickenman” who is “everywhere”, literally (as people said when I was in the Army).  There is an early scene where he mentions a bicycle race when trying to pawn something. Well, he pawns the bike itself (which he stole) in order to get a cheap videocam, which he will upgrade later.  Does that explain his sundering?  Maybe he’s tried to work as a jockey. Actors have to do a lot and really “change” to make and stay on the A-List.  He's scraped the bottom of the barrel but won't succumb like a typical homeless man.  He's a real carnivore. 
He somewhat stumbles into the idea that he can sell gruesome accident or crime footage, gets very good at it (starting by eavesdropping on the police and speeding to scenes) but pretty soon he is negotiating with station news manager Nina (Rene Russo), who has to stretch the limits of journalistic ethics herself to keep the ratings and her job.  He has some competition (Bill Paxton) and he hires a homeless helper (Riz Ahmed) as an “intern” and manipulates the kid into getting over his natural reticence, making the kid an effective tag team member.
Relativity says that the observer affects what he watches and reports – it’s the chess kibitzer’s problem. Pretty soon Bloom’s behavior follows Einstein.  He sneaks into accident or crime premises and manipulates little things to make them more enticing.  Half way through the movie, he discovers (by snooping) a home invasion in progress and gets there before the cops do, and enters the house, taking full advantage of the tawdry shotgun victims.  The news channel is shocked at how he got the footage, but Russo can’t resist, the chance to play up the fear element that brazen revolutionary crime is coming to gated communities and rich people’s enclaves.  It sounds a bit like “The Purge”.
Actually, the film will bring back other classics, especially “Taxi Driver”, and more recently “Drive”.  In fact, the obvious other possible lead for this film could have been Ryan Gosling.  (I could almost suggest Richard Harmon, maybe just a little too young.) 

Gyllenhaal comments that this movie is, in a sense, a “success story” and reflects on a perverse idea of what recognition is all about, or even what “a job is”.  It’s about a “coyote” becoming “industrious”.
It’s pretty easy to suggest other scenarios for dramas about journalism – most of all conflict journalism overseas.  In fact, this film (which cost “only” $8 million) was probably bankrolled before ISIS attracted notoriety.  There is the idea that journalists have to “pay their dues” to become a credible part of the press.  

There is a deeper issue, though, that journalists, especially amateur ones, may provoke the harmful stories that they need to report. That can even be true of columnists, or of people who question the “critical thinking” of those above them in activist organizations to draw attention.  I’ve known that experience for years. 
The official site is here  for “Bold Films” and Open Road.  (This might have made for a “roadside attraction”.)  I guess my own tagline for the movie would have been “Do Ask. Do Act, Do Tell”.  Bloom certainly lives on a permanent “nightcall”. This film kept me glued to my seat.  
I saw the film at a half-full big auditorium at the Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield, VA Saturday.  The picture above is a new restaurant near the theater.  

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