Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Nightcrawler - The Adventures of a Humanoid Corporation

Corporatese is the language of psychopaths.  Beyond being a tribal marking - a tribe of suits, ties, briefcases, and practical black German cars - it is a twisted dialect of understatement and avoidance.  Unlike its incomprehensible cousin Legalese, Corporatese at least can mimic regular speech that a person would use.  Yet there is no individual in "business-speak", merely a conglomerate of larger interests, 'the corporation'.  A person can have emotions, they can have guilt, they can even suffer pangs of responsibility.  A business corporation does not.  A corporation is a vast omnipresent psychopath made out of fleshy, presumably moral people.  Corporatese is a dance of bullshit that lets the humans within the business machine ignore the chilling nature of the shared universe they have created.

Louis Bloom, the main character of "Nightcrawler"* might be the first character to be a living corporation.  Despite a polite, positive, even friendly attitude, Bloom makes the skin crawl of everybody he meets.  There is something clearly off about this person.  A false smile lies on his unblinking face, below swepted-back hair and above a wirey frame.  His speech is full of nonsensical buzz words he is quoting verbatim from online interview guides.  Everything about him is a staged production performed just badly enough to make you wonder if there are lizard scales hiding beneath his human suit.  Bloom uses Corporatese in every line not because he's playing a role, rather this is his natural element.

If there was ever any doubt about Jake Gyllenhaal's abilities as an actor, "Nightcrawler" is the film that will silence that dissent.  This is a deeply impressive performance that could not have been done better if the master of slime himself, Eric Roberts, had played it.  Gyllenhaal does creepy very well, just see his double(?) role in the earlier "Enemy".  "Nightcrawler" exists mostly as a showcase for this disturbing character, much as "American Psycho" existed to project the horror of the yuppie serial killer Patrick Bateman.  We follow Bloom's crimes, tactical advancements, and creepy gestures of friendship towards genuine people, and are made accomplices in his meteoric rise to camera greatness.  It is one of the best performances of the year in a thrilling film, showcasing just how much damage a single person with a corporate-mindset can do, while climbing upwards to his own nightmarish American Dream.

Louis Bloom's path to fortune is not the typical journey of a psychopath.  He is only an outlaw when he cannot avoid violence, but neither is he working within smartly-dressed offices where Corporatese usually spawns.  Rather he's sitting right in this uncomfortable middle ground of legal ambiguity, doing something truly terrible but entirely within the law.  Compare to the equally horrid Jordan Belfort from last year's "The Wolf of Wall Street" who stayed in power thanks to wealth so obscene that the authorities could hardly believe his audacity.  Gyllenhaal's character is much more subtle.  Leopold Louis Bloom festers best in the gray zone outside of normal society, producing a cloud of noxious ambiguity so dense that nobody is quite sure what he can be arrested for, despite the carnage he's wrought across the city of Los Angeles.

Louis Bloom or the Babadook:  which would you rather see in the dark of midnight?
Bloom is what is known as a "stringer", essentially a roaming cameraman driving at night through cities, looking for car crashes, murders, or other such lurid events to film.  Local news broadcasts pull in much of their audience filming these tragedies, but do not have the time to send professional camera teams with permission of the police to film these events just after they have occurred.  During a typical night of underhanded dealings, Bloom comes across a professional stringer (Bill Paxton) plying his trade at an accident, and is suddenly enraptured by the money - and the twisted fame.  He steals a bike to sell for a camera, shoves it right into the faces of victims, and suddenly finds his footage on the morning news.

Ever the entrepreneur, Bloom collects Rick (Riz Ahmed) an unemployed young man as his "intern" for a company Louis had invented on the spot.  A desperate local station chief, Nina (the long MIA Rene Russo), soon begins to rely upon the eager Louis to bring her the juiciest and most sexy film available to stay ahead in the ratings.  From there, it's all a race to get the bloodiest footage, no matter what the costs.  Bloom quickly positions Nina, the only real authority figure here, into encouraging - if not even depending upon - his behavior.  He's ruthless enough to use his influence to extort sex out of her.  Rick is a nice lad who really just wants a paycheck, but is not really in any position to complain while his boss's Corporatese is filled with so many polite threats.  It's only a short drop forward to imagining:  why find crimes when making them happen can lead to so much better footage?

"Nightcrawler" is easily the most twisted take on news broadcasts since 1977's "Network".  Director Dan Gilroy conjures a world where the local news has become not very different from an online shock site.  Freshly killed corpses, with their faces and wounds crudely mosiac'd out with very small pixels, are shown for everybody just waking up and getting ready for work.  Nina's only real concern is whether the station can be sued - or if the long-term profits will overcome any losses thanks to pesky lawsuits.  I would not be surprised if this station aired the Mao Tse-Tsung Hour just after they were done with Bloom's footage.  Unfortunately Gilroy loses himself somewhat in his satire.  "Nightcrawler" breaks away with own it's reality towards the end, as Bloom's affect on the station somehow transforms into inspirational leadership, despite quite a bit of LA being destroyed.

Doesn't this station ever air any fluff pieces? How about something about puppies or flowers?
If you're looking for a movie that will leave you with a pleasant warm feeling about the human race, "Nightcrawler" honestly is not going to be that film.  It's a dark movie full of dark characters in a shadowy city full of a seeming endless array of bright lights and potential victims.  If you want a thrilling piece on a heinous person pulling incredible shit and getting away with it, then you're going to get your money's worth here.  Add in what is probably the most iconic and original male performance of the entire year from Jake Gyllenhaal and a better car chase than the whole of "The Fast and Furious" franchise, and you're going to have a wild ride.

Hey, you're hungry for violence and thrills, right?  Just as much as anybody else.  Why not let Mr. Bloom and his charming falseness ease you down for a lovely evening at the movies, while he tears the world up for your pleasure?  Does that make you any better than the sleaze-loving viewers of Nina's network, gobbling up the nocturnal deaths and maimings of their fellow citizens while they chew their morning breakfast?  Nah, don't worry too much about that.  Bloom is here to entertain.  Enjoy your filth.  Unscrupulous psychopaths like him will always exist to supply it.  What do you need a conscience or morals for when you're doing such profitable work?

* No, it has nothing to do with the Marvel superhero.  Shut up.


    Great review Blue! I watched the movie last week and thought the same. I feel bad for Rick though, he wasn't that great of a guy but he always spoke his mind when he thought something was wrong, at the end his lack of conviction and desperation got him killed. He kind of reminded me of Jesse Pinkman, but more simpleminded.

    In those last few minutes I was expecting some kind of karmic justice to befall on Bloom, and the end of the movie was full suspense for me cause I was so used to it, but when I saw him actually getting away with it I was honestly surprised. I know is wrong to root for an asshole like Bloom but you gotta admire his balls after everything was said and done. It was actually refreshing, though in my imaginary sequel he gets his comeuppance.


  2. My problem with the ending isn't so much that he seems to get away, but that it feels abrupt. 20 more minutes involving his legal issues or so and I would have been fine.

  3. This is one of your best reviews dude!