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Nightcrawler ••••1/2

NightcrawlerfilmStarring: Jake GyllenhaalRene RussoBill Paxton
Director: Dan Gilroy
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy
Crime/Drama/Thriller, Rated: R
Running Time: 117 minutes
Release Date: October 31, 2014

Bloom: Single, N-NN Moral, Pro (Irredeemable Anti-Hero)

Police: System, P-P Moral, Ant (Untransformed Government Anti-Villain)


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Scott, it’s time to crawl out of your hole and write a review with me tonight.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

I’m out of the hole and at my keyboard. Time to review Nightcrawler, starring Jake Gyllenhaal. You first, Gregger.

Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a disreputable young man who makes ends meet by stealing chain link fence and manhole covers for the money he can negotiate from the smelters. He is scraping the bottom of the barrel when he happens upon an accident where he witnesses some professional videographers who crawl the night looking for stories to film and sell to area newscasts. Louis decides this is an easy way to make money and steals a bicycle which he hocks for a camcorder and police radio receiver.

Lou first films the scene of a fatal accident and takes the clip to a local TV station whose new director, Nina (Rene Russo), welcomes his gory footage. She encourages him to bring her videos of violent accidents and crime scenes with white affluent victims. Lou hires an assistant, Rick (Rick Garcia), and the two men find some success hunting down bloody car collisions and murders to put on film. To obtain better videos, Lou alters some crime scenes and arranges dead bodies to create better images. He even sabotages a competitor’s van so that his competitor suffers a gruesome accident for Lou to film. One night he and Rick arrive at the scene of a horrific mass murder before the police have arrived. This sets in motion more graphic violence for Lou to orchestrate (and videotape) with the goal of earning more money from Nina.

Scott, Nightcrawler is an intense look behind the scenes of local news. It’s not enough to show the events as they happen, but Lou is advised to find events that show the urban world encroaching on the suburban world. Or, to show people of color robbing or killing white people. These are the stories that garner higher ratings. And higher ratings garner more advertising dollars. Lou realizes this and starts to manipulate not only the crime scenes he’s supposed to be reporting on, but also the people around him. He convinces his “intern” Rick to work for peanuts and even gets Nina to sleep with him so that he will continue to feed her these high-value videos.

Lou is an unusual hero for a movie. He has many of the characteristics we look for in a hero. He’s resourceful as he finds a way to make a living. He is intelligent – he studies the internet and reads up on all things having to do with network news and how it works behind the scenes. In his own way, he is charismatic as he uses his motivational speaker skills (which he learned from the internet) to induce people to do things they really don’t want to do. He rises from a position of low social status to running his own business.

But he severely lacks any empathy for how other people feel. He is completely self-absorbed and manipulates people into doing things that are illegal and ultimately even life-threatening. He will do anything to get what he wants, no matter the cost to others. Scott, Lou Bloom is a textbook definition of the anti-hero. He is a villainous person cast in the role of the lead character of the story. Unlike the more likable anti-heroes (like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Bonnie and Clyde), we learn to fear and even despise Lou Bloom.

For me, Nightcrawler is a disturbing look at a disturbed man. Lou is a classic sociopath who lacks a conscience and has no empathy, remorse, or moral core. He uses people and hurts people to obtain his goals. We’ve seen characters like this in the movies before, of course, but usually they are secondary characters, i.e., the villains who occupy limited screen time. But in Nightcrawler, we’re subjected to Lou’s heinous character for two solid hours. He appears in just about every scene. Although this film was extremely well made, I was uncomfortable being exposed to pure evil for such an extended period of time in the form of Lou’s psychopathic personality and escalating malevolent behavior. It was relentless.

As you point out, Greg, we know villains share four of the Great Eight attributes of heroes. Lou is smart, strong, charismatic, and resilient. But Lou is lacking the most telltale signs of a hero: He has no heart. It was repugnant watching him deliberately ignore suffering people, harm others, and even kill them, in order to sell his videos at a higher price to Nina. Nightcrawler makes us think about the ethics of paparazzi and ambulance chasers. It even raises ethical issues about television news journalism and where they can and should draw the line between morality and legality.

With Lou already playing such a villainous role, it’s hard to identify any villains in Nightcrawler. Lou’s arc of going from harmless gadfly to devious mastermind is the epitome of the Villain’s Journey – which is the mirror image of the Hero’s Journey. So, I look for the more heroic characters to offset Lou’s villainy.

Nina is already a pretty cut-throat news director. She’ll do anything to advance her career – even put clearly illegal source material on the air. She doesn’t offer an impediment to Lou’s advance. In fact, she aids it. There is a minor character in the form of the station manager, but while he is the voice of morality and reason, he offers little in the way of opposition to Lou.

The rival video company owned by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) is Lou’s only opposition. He’s a good guy, plays by the rules. But he’s a tough businessman. At one point he see’s Lou’s abilities and tries to hire him. But instead of taking Joe’s offer, Lou tampers with Joe’s brake line and causes him to be in an accident that heartless Lou films for the morning news. And that ends any opposition that Lou might have.

Really, the only decent character with any screen time is Rick, who plays the role of the sidekick who repeatedly questions Lou’s actions and character. Rick is in such desperate need of money that he looks the other way while Lou engages in awful conduct. Rick’s also such a weak character that he is no match against Lou when the two men eventually collide over morals.

If there is an oppositional force at work against Lou, it exists mostly in the form of the ineffectual Los Angeles Police Department, who appear at the scenes of accidents and murders, and who also try to keep Lou from getting in the way of emergency personnel as well as their investigations of what happened at these scenes. The LAPD may be the type of villains that we call institutional villains — a large bureaucratic entity that lurks in the background as the main impediment to our main character’s goals.

Nightcrawler is more frightening than any horror movie for its vivid portrayal of the realities of mainstream news. The thing that makes it scary is just how real and current the story is. This could be happening now. This is a tale about how we are being fed stories – and how they could potentially being crafted – to titillate and spread fear in the name of news and money. It begs the question – what is news? I give Nightcrawler 5 out of 5 Reels for showing us a very scary reality.

Lou Bloom is a terrifying anti-hero cast in the world of network news. He frightens us not for any super powers that he might have, but for how amazingly ordinary he seems to be. He seems in every way an under achiever. He is not handsome, overly intelligent, or even athletic. But he is a cunning villain in the way he manipulates his prey. We are witness to a complete Villain’s Journey here. I give Lou Bloom 5 out of 5 Villains.

There are no strong heroes in this story for Lou to combat. You’ve already pointed out that the LAPD detectives were completely ineffectual against Lou. And rival Joe Loder was no match for Lou. A stronger hero for our anti-hero would have made Nightcrawler a completely different movie. I can only give these side-heroes 2 out of 5 Heroes.

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Nightcrawler is an extremely well made movie but you won’t catch me watching it again. The movie is two relentless hours of the devil in human form at work on the streets of Los Angeles. I was disturbed by the main character (notice that I cannot call him a hero) and his wanton disregard for human life, and it was disheartening that no heroic character in the film could even come close to combating him. I don’t know what good can come from making such a movie or even watching it, other than the possibility that it can be used as fodder for ethical reform for the ways TV networks solicit film clips for their evening news. I give this movie 4 Reels out of 5 simply out of respect for the filmmaking and for Jake Gyllenhaal’s extraordinary performance.

There is no hero in this story, as this is a tale of the triumph of evil. Our main character is the devil running roughshod over everyone in his path. Like a cancer, he just grows and grows in his size and power, and he is shown flourishing in the end. He doesn’t change or evolve or transform like a heroic character might. He has no mentors or friends and he eliminates his sidekick when the sidekick outlives his usefulness. Our main character’s evil simply gains strength for two disturbing hours. The absence of a hero story here leads me to assign a rating of 0 out of 5 Heroes.

Inasmuch as our main character is a villain, this is a movie about villainy and how it blossoms. Nightcrawler shows us how villainy is allowed to prosper when we allow it to prosper, when we condone it, when we cooperate with it, and when we place money ahead of principles. Nina and Rick are probably not terrible people; they simply succumb to greed. As the main character, Lou does encounter some resistance from a rival videographer (whom Lou severely injures), a sidekick Rick (whom Lou eliminates), and the LAPD (whom Lou outsmarts).  There aren’t many villain stories that are better told than this one, and so I’ll give Lou an impressive 4 Villains out of 5.

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