Wednesday, November 5, 2014

He shoots visions of Hell in the City of Angels

For anyone fearing there is no creativity in the movie business, “Nightcrawler” will restore their faith that there is still plenty of talent out there. Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, the movie is that rare one that leaves the viewer wanting to see it again. This desire comes not only to be enveloped in the almost surreal, dreamlike atmosphere created by the filmmakers, but also to absorb some of its sharp dialogue which might have been missed during the first viewing. “Nightcrawler” is completely engrossing from start to finish and its screenplay, which ranks with those of “Stoker” and “The Place Beyond the Pines”, is the main reason. Gilroy has created a rich and thoroughly entertaining character. Jake Gyllenhaal portrays this character, Lou Bloom, with a wide-eyed zeal. Bloom puts himself on the fast track to become the most successful videographer of grisly accidents, fires and crime scenes in L.A. Renee Russo plays Nina Romina, a tough-as-nails news producer who is eager to bolster ratings and up her status. A lesser screenplay would have rolled out a tired and therefore boring indictment of the both the TV news business’ lack of decency and the public’s insatiable appetite for destruction. Gilroy is a much more thoughtful writer than that and for this reason “Nightcrawler” manages to build a fresh story in a familiar milieu. The film has received a comparison to “Taxi Driver” from “The New York Times” for its depiction of a lonely, unhinged protagonist, but the movie could also and perhaps more accurately be compared to “Scarface” and “There Will Be Blood”, since it depicts a character whose ambition holds no boundaries, moral or otherwise. Bloom’s first desire to become a nightcrawler (the term a rival videographer played by Bill Paxton uses for what they do) after he stops at a traffic accident and sees freelance cameramen recording the wreckage. Earlier that night Bloom unsuccessfully lobbied for a position, then an internship at a scrap metal yard. The owner declined, telling him (who was there to unload obviously stolen metal) that he wouldn’t have a thief working for him. The exchange between the owner and Bloom is within the first five minutes of the movie and it sets the stage for what will be a showcase of great writing. Bloom goes through a confident price negotiation process before pitching aggressively to the owner himself as a vital part of the organization. Later it becomes clear Bloom sees himself as an entrepreneur as he works to build his business, any business, from the ground up. Whether it’s learning the scrap metal business or selling graphic images to TV news stations is irrelevant as long as there’s room to grow. As soon as he sells his first video to Romina he begins hustling his way further into the station and higher up the ranks. He gives Romina a possibly earnest, possibly insincere speech about how an online business course he took taught him to look for a job combining his passion and talent and how he didn’t know before, but now he is certain TV news is where he needs to be. While the movie could most easily be labeled as an indictment of the TV news industry’s bloodlust and fear mongering, but when one looks a little deeper it’s clear “Nightcrawler” is a look at the dark side of ambition.It is by looking at the movie through this lens that Lou Bloom has more in common with Tony Montana or Daniel Plainview than he does with Travis Bickle. While Bloom is clearly a sociopath, he has much in common with many people today who desperately want to build something and make their mark. Bloom often speaks in business-workshop terms and phrases, seeming to be an amateur Tony Robbins or Robert T. Kiyosaki of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” fame. Based on the popularity of Robbins and Kiyosaki, many people are buying what Bloom is selling. One of the best scenes displaying Bloom’s slick businessman-like showmanship is when he meets an impressionable disciple for what this person thinks is a job interview. This young man (Riz Ahmed, amazing in this supporting role) clearly has had his confidence eroded from a hard road from an employment perspective and tells Bloom he was even homeless for a little while. Bloom needs someone to provide navigation and shoot a second angle while he’s trolling L.A. for footage and after a brief interview he offers the man the position. He asks Bloom how much it pays. “It’s an internship,” Bloom replies. When his employee balks at this, he tells him he’s offering him experience and it’s not at all uncommon for him to offer full-time jobs to his interns. His applicant, Rick, manages to talk him into a stipend of $30 cash per night and after they’ve been working together a couple months, Bloom has given his business a name and mentally structures it as a real company. It is within this imaginary structure that he tells Rick, who has been all-but-begging for his performance review that he has noticed his increased enthusiasm and therefore is promoting him to executive vice president. “What I am now?” Rick asks. “You’re an assistant,” Bloom says. Rick asks if it comes with a raise and upon being told to pick a number replies meekly he’d like $75 a night. Later, he asks for more. “We can reopen negotiations but when it comes to your career reputation, you can’t unring that bell,” Bloom tells him. Part of the fun of the Bloom character is not knowing to what extent he actually believes his pseudo-corporate talk and to what extent he knows he’s stringing his employee along and inflating his business’ and his status. As stated before, “Nightcrawler” is a movie worth seeing again and with plenty of dark humor, a twisted main character and insightful, revealing dialogue, it’s one which will be talked about and watched again for years to come, ideally on the midnight movie circuit.

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