In Nightcrawler, Jake Gyllenhall takes a dark turn as Louis Bloom, a Dale Carnegie quoting misfit who finds his life's purpose in selling graphic videos to local TV stations. In what's framed as a devastating critique of the media, mostly just states the obvious. Yes, if it bleeds, it leads. Nothing new there. An excellent performance from Gyllenhall fails to redeem Nightcrawler.
When we first meet Louis we realize he's the type of guy who will do absolutely anything for a fast buck. He sells scrap metal, commits petty thefts, and enjoys negotiating with pawnbrokers. One night he witnesses a "freelance" video crew led by a haggard Bill Paxton tape the aftermath of a high speed car accident. Seeing the money making potential and a chance to indulge his voyeuristic impulses, Louis decides get into the exploitation business, and finds a sponsor in a local news producer at a fledgling station played by Rene Russo (Nina).
Early on Nina informs Louis about what stories get ratings in LA: well off white people put in peril by a person of color or someone from the lower classes. So he goes out and and records home invasions and the station's ratings skyrocket. Anyone who watches the local news can attest to the shamelessness of their nightly coverage. In a superficial way, the film points the finger at the audiences who thrive on it.
The changing nature of television news is ripe for a great film. But Nightcrawler is too one dimensional and not on the same plain as Network or The Insider. Gyllenhall's performance as a charming sociopath has a tinge of menace, but we never get to emphasize with him, so he's more of a caricature than a character. Bottom feeders will thrive in any economy during time period. I don't see any grand statement about our time, more of a confirmation if anything?
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