Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler
seen @ Cinemart Fiveplex, Forest Hills, Queens, NY
12.23.14

One of the things I remember quite clearly about the first few hours of September 11 was how often the TV news kept showing the footage of the second plane crashing into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and their subsequent demolition. I remember thinking how unreal it seemed, that it looked like a scene from an action movie. Granted, it was tremendously newsworthy, to say the least, but as the day wore on and the networks continued to show the footage, it got to be far too much to have to look at over and over again. I suspect I'm not the only one who felt that way, either.

This is obviously an extreme example, but the point is the same: there are times when tragic news stories have a way of being exploited in the name of higher ratings or more website hits or higher circulation. Maybe it's intentional, maybe it's not, but in 2014-about-to-become-2015, we'd be fools to think this sort of thing doesn't go on.



Look at the coverage of the computer hacking of SONY, which is believed to have been the work of North Korea in an attempt to prevent the release of the controversial film The Interview - an attempt, I'm now proud to say, which was unsuccessful. Still, a great deal of private and personal information was stolen and publicized as a result of the cyber-sabotage, and a number of websites have not been shy about digging through this information for salacious tidbits, to SONY's dismay. None of this material was meant for public consumption, and the only reason we know about it now was because SONY was victimized by a foreign power with an intent to do harm. Given these highly unusual circumstances, did we "need" to know what was in those e-mails and memos?

Also, news media often approach tragic stories from a certain judgmental perspective, despite claims of objectivity. Local news outlets in particular are notorious for this. The livable streets movement, for example, often has to contend with local media who tend to favor drivers whenever there's a fatal or near-fatal collision involving pedestrians or bicyclists.



None of this can truly be said to be surprising, but the movie Nightcrawler approaches the notion from a different angle by taking us into the seedy world of freelance cameramen in modern-day Los Angeles, who prowl the streets at night looking for crime scenes they can film and then sell to the local TV news. Gyllenhaal's character gets a taste of this life and finds he likes it a whole lot, becoming the go-to crime scene cameraman for a struggling TV news program, but as his success grows, so does his ambition.

In the early-to-mid-20th century, there was Weegee, the photojournalist primarily known for his pictures of crime scenes in and around New York. He owned a police-band shortwave radio, which meant he often beat the police to a crime scene. He understood that pictures involving high society types made for more interesting and more profitable photos. During his time, he was recognized as an artist as much as a journalist.



Gyllenhaal's character is almost like a 21st-century version of Weegee, but he's quite different in temperament. From the moment we first see him, there's a pathological undercurrent to his psyche that leads him to this profession. He's drawn to crime scenes and car crashes and other such conditions and feels practically no compassion for the victims involved. He's almost preternaturally brilliant, but in a skewed and off-kilter way, and his drive to be a self-made success is relentless. The deeper he gets into his career, the more willing he is to use anyone to help him get what he wants - not unlike Faye Dunaway's character in Network, which this movie is evocative of in places.

Every year, there are movies that I have to pass on seeing because of limited money and time. I know I can't see everything I want to see and I accept that. Nightcrawler almost became one of those movies, even though I knew it was getting good reviews. But then it started appearing on critics' lists... and then Gyllenhaal got nominated for a SAG... and then a Golden Globe. Suddenly I realized that I needed to see this movie, and to my great luck, it was still playing at the local second-run theater, the Cinemart. 



I was absolutely riveted to this movie from start to finish. Gyllenhaal dominates the screen and embodies a morally questionable yet fascinating character to watch, because at every turn, you keep wondering, how far can he push his luck, and at every turn, he keeps on surprising you. This is easily Gyllenhaal's best work since Brokeback Mountain and maybe his best performance ever. Really hope he makes the Best Actor cut for the Oscar.

It was also nice to see Rene Russo again (yes, I know she's in the Thor movies, but I haven't seen them). She had a nice run in the 90s with great films like In The Line of Fire, Outbreak, Get Shorty and Ransom (and yes, the Lethal Weapon sequels, too). She's the wife of writer-director Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler is his directing debut), so that explains her presence here, but she's equally terrific in a key role as the TV news executive who deals with Gyllenhaal. I always liked her, and I like her in this one too.

They say that these days, it's hard out here for an Oscar-caliber film, and maybe we're in the middle of a sea change, but I hope not. I have to believe that there will always be a market for quality adult films like Nightcrawler.

2 comments:

  1. This movie reminded me a lot of Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole, about a morally bankrupt reporter willing to do anything to report and manipulate a tragic, sensationalized news story.

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  2. Absolutely. Good call. And Gyllenhaal's character here has the same thinly-veiled contempt for people that spurs him on as does Kirk Douglas' character.

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