It is rare that modern cinema can work so well on a number of different levels. This definitely ticked a lot of the right boxes…
It would remiss of me not to decry the overabundance of comic strip cinema spewing from the studios of America but in its defence it has thrown up some pertinent questions. How we view outsiders for example, our paranoia about mass media and maybe even our perverse desire to see things get blown up. Maybe my problem is not what these films are saying but that the excessive ribbons and bows of CGI and spandex don’t do it for me.
What’s does get my engine running is great camerawork. Beautiful night time images, an American muscle car belting along at great speeds( naturally, with proper stunt drivers). And yes, a none too subtle takedown of the American dream. Preferably by an antihero, who uses the system against the machine.
Lou Bloom(played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is an outsider who wants to be inside. The opening scene is him clipping metal fence in a creepy railway freight area. The first thing I thought was, why is he doing that, he can clearly walk around the fence. He is in fact stealing the wired fence. Lou is a thief, he just hasn’t figured out what’s worth stealing yet.
His natural progression is charted throughout the opening half hour of the film, until he manages to get himself a deal where he ends up with a modest camcorder and police scanner. Soon he is an ambulance chasing voyeur, turning up and road accidents and getting cheques from the local television new network.
He doesn’t stop there, the quality of his work improves through intense research and study, so much so that he takes on an intern(of Latin descent, obviously).
Soon we are in the throes of Lou’s own American Dream. Get to the top any which way. It’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump would bloody love this film.
What anchors the film is the realism of the local television network and how they go about their business. Nightcrawling is an industry onto itself. In L.A scores of wannabe video journalists prowl the streets for real, hoping to secure footage good enough to sell onto the local broadcaster. Perhaps the neatest trick that’s pulled off here is seeing a nobody like Bloom come in and break up the unofficial cartel. As horrible as he is, he has found a community of people far more unlikable.
But when I say it works on a number of levels that is to give it appropriate dues. As a visual piece of cinema, it is beautiful to look at. Robert Elswit, a regular collaborator with the excellent Nichols Winding Refn, clearly relishes the challenges of filming the Los Angeles streets at night. Though we have seen them countless times, he brings a real sheen to the imagery.
If IMDB were giving you ‘if you liked this’ recommendations they ought to cite Thief(Michael Mann) American Gigolo( Paul Schrader) and The Driver (Walter Hill) as what you can follow up with. In truth that list could be quite lengthy however.
Director Dan Gilroy, whose previous credits have been mainly as a screenwriter, brings a real cogent, decisive story to bear. Very little dialogue is wasted, it’s as sparse as it is necessary. This is no mean feat considering he is basically self editing. But yet it doesn’t feel shallow. Even the TV station manager is perfectly pitched as a victim, not only of a pressure to improve ratings but also as a person worn down and desensitized by watching violence from the comfort of a video booth.
When this first came out, I missed out for some reason. Though I do recall the trailer was another modern hatchet job that did the film no justice. If you haven’t watched this, go do so. I would give it four and a half crappy camcorders out of five.