Footage of the princess Diana car crash in 1997 caught the imagination of TV viewers across the world, the metallic skeleton of the contorted car frame was pixelated on screens across the world in a pornography of violence and death of one of the world’s most famous celebrities. The sequel – 9/11- featured repeated footage of a plane flying into the twin towers, TV viewers gawped at the surreal, nihilistic images. Nightcrawler – directed by Dan Gilroy and starring Jake Gyllenhaal – explores all these themes.
Comparisons will be made to Travis Bickle as we follow the exploits of loser and sociopath Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a small time crook, who unable to find a job discovers the world of the Nightcrawlers. Insomniacs who drive around Los Angeles listening to police footage in order to turn up to accidents or crime scenes so they can film the gruesome footage and sell it on to news broadcasters.
In an alternative universe this might be a Cronenberg film or maybe even a J.G Ballard short story, but had Cronenberg directed this it probably wouldn’t have been as entertaining. We are guided as tourists – Grand Theft Auto style – around the city and director Dan Gilroy does a great job as he leads us through the dusk till dawn adventure following the emergency services, capturing all the murder, carnage and mayhem of this vast dark urban sprawl – that it all takes place in the City of Angeles – home of Hollywood – is most potent. We have a glamorous star-spangled scene up on Mulholland Drive where our anti-hero Lou tells us he’s perfecting the angle getting the right scene.
Rene Russo is perfect as Nina the amoral TV station manager – unbelievably the actress turned 60 – and there’s a strange sexual tension whenever Lou brings her the gruesome footage, as though only the violent explicit images can turn her on. She later goes on a date with Lou but the sexual tension dissipates – talk turns to business and it’s clear in a real world context she has absolutely no intention of relations with him, only images can turn her on – the more explicit the better.
Lou, brilliantly realised by a hungry sunken cheeked Jake Gyllenhaal speaks in a strange business babble throughout the movie and feels absolutely no remorse for the horrific scenes he witnesses, his partner in crime Rick (Riz Ahmed), who’s just in it to earn a buck, tells him that he doesn’t understand people – that’s his problem. Lou replies: “What if I just don’t like them”. The one character – Nina’s assistant – who offers any kind of moral anchor, is quickly flicked off screen.
Although the car chase at the end is a step too far, it’s definitely one of the best films of the year, provocative, entertaining, brilliantly executed and well acted. In a particularly poignant moment Lou is prancing around the news studio and he fronts a massive backdrop of LA he says: “It looks almost real.” And I guess that’s the point. It almost does.