Nightcrawler (dir. Dan Gilroy, 2014) – In search for work, Louis Bloom nosedives into the complex world of crime journalism.
Nightcrawler offers a riveting exploration of news-depicted violence, driven by Jake Gyllenhaal’s chilling and sociopathic lead performance.
Persistence is rewarding in the journalism field, which necessitates a firm chase after newsworthy stories. But who defines the line that should not be crossed? How much should the public be told, and when should one look away?
A camera can turn into a weapon, when ideals of objectivity face the threat of an inconclusive debate: Are we to intervene at the cost of documentation, or document the truth at the risk of lives?
Nightcrawler deals head-on with these lasting ethical conundrums and more, raising difficult questions that grip. Exploring grey areas of morality, Dan Gilroy’s movie boldly shadows a central character who is admirable in his driven nature, yet despicable in his conniving actions.
With audacity to fabricate and desecrate the deceased, ambitious video stringer Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) rapidly shoots to success in his new career. His absence of empathy makes him the perfect candidate in documenting tragedy.
Apathy grants one the resolve to persist, in spite of circumstances that will make one turn the other way. ‘Unsympathetic’, ‘narcissistic’ and ‘manipulative’ thus become unlikely traits to covet for in the world of crime journalism.
Lou is all of that. The intellect thrives on his lack of guilt in a profession that unflinchingly looks death in the eye. Witnessing death or intruding private moments of grief can take an emotional toll. But his apparent psychopathy leaves him unscathed. Things quickly get dangerous, when his predatory hunt makes his path unpredictable.
Behind the intense thriller, a fine script sees the study in sociopathy and unprincipled decisions go beyond the superficial look at Louis’ emotional detachment. We see it in his partner-in-crime Rick Carey (Riz Ahmed), when money softens his reluctance into compromise. We see it in editor Nina Romina (Rene Russo), who sees news as a blood-sport and readily accepts questionable footage in favour of viewership over ethics.
On a broad societal level, it lies in the invisible audience – us – who tunes in for the programmed grotesque. Discretion warnings for graphic content no longer deter and instead, entice. Out of morbid interest, we assume the form of passers-by, gawking behind the cordon lines of a fatal car accident.
On-screen news removes us from the actual distaste of violence in reality, making it easier to look and fulfil our curiosity at a safe distance. Journalists who get up-close find themselves as desensitised as the viewer, if not more. Bloodlust incentivises the hunt for blood, which in turns grows one’s appetite for violence.
Media are gatekeepers-turned-enablers, pushing the limits to compete for viewers in the saturated news market. The constant search for exclusive coverage and fear-mongering angles is all about crafting crowd-pleasing illusions that see ratings skyrocket. In the words of Howard Beale, “We will tell you anything you want to hear, we will lie like hell.”
It is a compellingly grounded tale, parallel to recent real-life displays of brutal executions on mainstream network television, where terrorism passes off as an undeserving attraction.
A harrowing and thought-provoking commentary, Nightcrawler intrigues in how the industry and the society enable its anti-hero, consistently rewarding his amoral behaviour. The daring direction offers a timely critique on the media’s obsession with violence, in a stunning character study of endless fascination.