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Nightcrawler

It might be too easy to say “Nightcrawler” is about capitalism, but I don’t think it’s too much to say that all Lou Bloom (Jake Gylenhaal) really wants is a job. The problem is, he’s the kind of guy nobody is ever going to hire. At the beginning of the film, he is stealing chain link fence, manhole covers, and other sellable items when he’s stopped by a security officer. The security officer is wearing a nice watch. In the next scene, Bloom is wearing the watch, and trying to get the foreman to whom he has sold the manhole covers to hire him as a regular worker. “No way I’m hiring a thief,” the foreman tells him. So he goes off to find other means of employment.

Bloom becomes a nightcrawler – a freelance cameraman who listens to the police scanner and then races to the scenes of accidents or crimes, films what he can, and sells it to local news broadcasts. He has apparently read plenty of schlocky self help books, and perhaps taken a business class online (“You can learn just about anything on the internet,” he says) and memorized every single word he’s read or heard, and taken it all as literally as possible.

The chill and power of “Nightcrawler” comes in large part from listening to this character, over and over, recite something he’s read from a self-help book as a way of justifying increasingly evil acts. He believes in taking risks. In being bold. In establishing an optimal bargaining position. In knowing his oppositions’ weaknesses, and exploiting them. In negotiating hard, and getting as much out of every deal as he can. If he wasn’t a psychopath, he’d be a Fortune 500 CEO.

True to its title, almost all of “Nightcrawler” is filmed at night. Filmed with a digital camera, its nighttime cinematography rivals movies like “Collateral” and “Drive.” Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is fantastic – he looks hungry, gaunt, and capable of anything. You can see the wheels turning in his head, and the way he speaks is often chilling. In interviews, he says he wanted to think and act like the coyotes that live on the edge of Los Angeles, and the resemblance is amazing. Gyllenhaal is a talented actor who is often overshadowed by his co-stars, or given very little to do; here, he stands alone, and this is the performance that he will be remembered for. It’s a pity he wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for this role. He’s a hell of a lot better here than Eddie Redmayne was in “The Theory of Everything” (a movie so politely bland I can’t bring myself to review it.)

By the end of “Nightcrawler,” Lou Bloom has moved up the corporate ladder, is making solid contacts within the news industry, is sleeping with the program director, and has hired interns (whom he pays nothing, because hey, they’re interns.) He’s come a long way from stealing scrap metal. He’s also responsible for the death of a coworker, the hospitalization (and likely death) of a competitor, and he has stood by and watched cops walk into a deadly confrontation that he set up. He gets results. He reaches a little higher. He thinks outside of the box. Because nobody wants to hire a psychopath, but having one on your staff isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It would be interesting to watch this movie as part of a double feature with “A Most Violent Year,” as the two are thematically similar, but head in completely different directions.  While that film is about a wealthy man making his way in a heavily regulated industry rife with corruption and notorious for its mob ties, this one is about a man in an almost completely unregulated, virtually invisible industry at the bottom dregs of society.  But they are both about people whose one driving passion is growing their business, who will do anything and everything to that end.  For one man, that means killing his competitors (and even his partners.  For the other, it means making sure violent men never get involved with his business. They are utterly different, yet they are essentially the same.

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Posted in All Reviews, by Will Krischke.

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