Monday, November 3, 2014

Nightcrawler [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (4 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (M. D'Angelo) review

Nightcrawler [2014] (written and directed by Dan Gilroy) is a very timely if very disturbing mash-up of Taxi Driver [1976] and Network [1976] that will almost certainly earn the film's lead-actor Jake Gyllenhaal an Oscar Nomination come award season.

In the film, Gyllenhaal plays a troubled if perhaps utterly sincere 20-something loner named Louis Bloom perhaps suffering of some degree of autism spectrum disorder.  Living / struggling / making-do _alone_ in the megapolis that is Los Angeles today, with apparently no connection with anyone (at least DeNiro's character in Taxi Driver [1976] was shown in that film writing a letter to his parents...), ALL that the (perhaps) pitiable and (certainly) troubled Louis wants to do is to SUCCEED IN SOMETHING with the necessarily limited "skill set" that he's been given.

So we are introduced to the Louis in the film IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT, FOG SWIRLING ABOUT, FIRST _stealing_ some chain-linked fence from _some scrap-yard_ SOMEWHERE in the vastness of L.A., THEN _selling_ the stolen 50-100 lbs of chain linked fence to (presumably another) scrap-metal dealer, and FINALLY asking the scrap-metal dealer FOR A JOB, telling him, among other things, that he's MOTIVATED and A QUICK LEARNER.  Almost in disbelief, the scrap metal dealer tells him "Louis, I'll never hire you... (why? you may ask...) because I DON'T HIRE THIEVES."  Louis, who's probably been down this "Road of Rejection" before, shrugs-off this latest one without much emotion.  Instead, he just walks to his car, starts the engine, and ... heads off ... into the Damp, Foggy, DARKNESS ... basically to Nowhere.

En route ... (to nowhere...) ...  Fate seems to finally lend a "helping hand."  As he's driving along the largely empty concrete artery of one of L.A.'s vast freeways, he comes across an accident.  A car's crashed into an embankment.  Two police cars are stopped at either side.  A woman is crying out from inside the car.  The two police officers are feverishly trying to pull her out of the car as the engine under the hood is beginning to smoke and then catches fire.  IN THE MIDST OF THIS, A TELEVISION VAN COMES OUT OF NOWHERE, SCREECHING TO A STOP. Out jumps a bearded man with a video camera who films the two police officers _as they succeed_ in pulling the screaming woman out of the car just moments before it inevitably explodes.  Soon the bearded man, who turns out to be a freelance videographer named Joe Loder (played in the film by Bill Paxton), is talking to someone he has on speed-dial, negotiating a price for the video he just captured.

Jobless, directionless, but focused and sincere, Louis sees him do all this.  So he comes up to him and asks what he was doing (Joe answers that he and his partner/driver drive about Los Angeles every night, monitoring the police radio to fall upon scenes such as this which they then film and sell to the early television news shows in LA).  How much do they make?  (Enough to have a pretty sophisticated van outfitted with some pretty sophisticated gear along with some pretty sophisticated professional looking cameras).  Is he looking for perhaps to hire someone?  (No).  Sigh.  But how does one get into a business such as this?  (Well, get yourself a video camera and a police scanner).  And so ... the very next morning ... Louis does.  The rest of the movie ensues...

It turns out that Louis is "a natural" for this sort of "work."   Always more "focused on task at hand" than "empathetic" he walks into crime and accident scenes with a "clear vision" that comes to stun even the most veteran of bottom feeders like good-ole-pro Joe.  

THEN WITH FINALLY A MARKETABLE PRODUCT IN HAND he becomes "A NATURAL" IN THE "BUSINESS END" of this line of work AS WELL, as the somewhat desperate TV News producer Nina Romina (played by Rene Russo) soon comes to find out.  She's introduced to us as the producer of the lowest rated early television news program in the L.A. market, hence quite desperate to get those ratings up.  So when Louis comes to her with some of the (if nothing else...) _most viscerally gripping_ "news footage" imaginable -- again, he's able to walk over bodies, EVEN MOVE BODIES to "frame a better shot" without any moral qualms -- not only does she buy his stuff to help her show's ratings, but she soon becomes dependent on it.  FOR HIS PART, Louis soon realizes THAT FOR ONCE IN HIS LIFE HE HAS THE UPPER HAND.  And so he soon presses his advantage in ways that NO ONE in his/her right mind would ever do (or ever tolerate) ... But HE's COMING UP WITH THE STUFF that's KEEPING HER ... IN HER JOB ...

Soon Louis comes to look for "an assistant," to "ride shot-gun" with him to help him with "navigating" as he careens across Los Angeles at night, trying to be first at one or another accident or crime scene.  He settles on a similarly desperate homeless guy his age named Rick (played by Riz Ahmed) who he treats as badly as everybody else had previously treated him even though he seems to believe that he's actually serving as a "mentor figure" to Rick: "Remember Rick, nothing comes for free.  It's all up to you.  You have to prove _to me_ every day that you're worthy of working for me."  (To some extent, Louis is right, of course. But then, Louis is nuts ...).

So does one have to be(come) a (perhaps) part-autistic SOCIOPATH to "succeed" in the cut-throat world of today?  That's ultimately what the film asks.  Of course, the answer is hopefully no.  Still, for his part, Louis, honestly doesn't believe that he's doing anything wrong.  As his "business" "grows", he tells his increasing number of employees: "Remember, I'm not asking you to do ANYTHING that I MYSELF would not do."  And as throughout the whole of the film, he's UTTERLY, TERRIFYINGLY, SINCERE.

This is one disturbing film.

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