Feed on
Nightcrawler - Lou Bloom

Louis Bloom learns on the job from mentor Nina in Nightcrawler




There are plenty of explicit messages in writer/director Dan Gilroy’s superb Nightcrawler but there’s one beautifully written and directed scene in the film, just over half way in, that sums up the modern media professional’s moral dilemma almost entirely through subtext – and it’s the bar scene when Rene Russo’s producer, Nina Romina, finally meets her protégé, stringer Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) for dinner…

Having been granted his first break by Nina, Lou has been true to his word, feeding her the kind of footage she wants, night after night – “urban crime….creeping into the suburbs.. graphic.”– and in return Nina has begun to favour him above other freelancers.

They soon have a good thing going professionally, but Jake wants more. He keeps pumping her newsroom with enough gory footage until finally he’s in a position to stand her his carefully crafted ultimatum: either she gets more involved with him, professionally and romantically, or he’s taking his business elsewhere.

What’s so brilliant about the scene in the wine bar – their first ‘date’ – is the menace it conveys without ever resorting to histrionics. Most writer directors would have had the woman blow up when presented with Lou’s sociopathic demands for a more integrated connection. What makes the scene so compelling is that Russo’s character sits there, sucking it up while trying to navigate her way through this minefield without losing a leg, metaphorically speaking, in the process.

You can feel her pride stand up and swish its tail – her reactions shift from wry amusement to disgust and back to something strangely submissive in just a couple of minutes – but she is also wise and mature enough to know that what Lou is saying about her – that she’s not had a contract for more than two years in a long time and her contract is about to come up for renewal – is undeniably true and she might soon be looking at late middle-age in a dead end job with a pay cheque too thin to pay for her hair do, let alone a comfortable life.

But this is truly a Faustian moment: does she prostitute herself and become party to Lou’s murderous new coverage to stay in a job that still gives her a buzz, or does she walk away from this creeping danger and hope that Jake is wrong about her chances?

Media professionals hanging in there with teeth and claws

Nightcrawler - Rene Ruso

TV news producer Nina (Rene Russo) describes the kind of footage she needs to push up tired ratings

For me it was Russo’s character that said so much more about the media today than Gyllenhaal’s – because at the end of the day she is the one pushing for more gory, sensational content, he is merely the supplier. Typically her kind of character would have been driven by greed or lust for power, but we don’t feel she is at all – she’s just hanging in there, desperate to survive the changing times.

In many ways this is a tale about survival in America. Lou tries stealing to begin with. Doesn’t pay. Having become a sort of scavenger, both materially and intellectually – he devotes hours and hours to not only devouring but memorizing entire tracts from self-help and marketing blogs – he is always on the look out for a new opportunity – and a way out. When he finds it in a camcorder and torchlight, he goes great guns to make it a success.

Lou Bloom tells competition he's not 'fucking interested' in teaming up

Lou Bloom tells competition he’s not ‘fucking interested’ in teaming up

And it must be his success, his business, he won’t share it with anyone else, no matter how sweet the deal offered by his competition, say. He is the self-made man, answerable only to his own measure of what success means. This has always been true in America, but this man is a new breed, a man who talks like a law abiding entrepreneur, but lives, sleeps and feeds off broken bodies in a twilight zone where what is legal and what isn’t are blurred by the fear of being a nobody, the demands of a free market.

What you see in Lou’s sallow face when he reviews his stories is much less greed than an artist’s joy in creating a fine piece of work. He takes pride in creating a gallery of his work. His ‘art’ comes first; it becomes a sort of code to live by. He is in some sense exemplary as an artist, sacrificing sleep and even innocent lives in order to capture the ugly beauty of everyday human disasters wrought by guns and cars.

With chilling control, not a flicker of a smile or hint of a blush, he tells Nina  that he watches his stories over and over in order to learn from them. He bargains hard for his stories much less for material gain than to prove to himself and the world that his stories have true value, that he is the best at what he does. He doesn’t blow his new gains, either, he ploughs everything back into his business, while maintaining a miserable one bed apartment in a tough area of town. Even the flashy souped up red car (a Dodge Challenger SRT) that he buys later in the film is an investment in his business, because he needs the speed if he’s to arrive at the crime scene before the cops and other more seasoned freelancers.

Lou’s quiet pitter-patter displaying all he has learnt about his trade is eerily reminiscent of Anthony Perkins’ ‘helpfulness’ in Psycho. His dedication is manic, his commitment unwavering throughout. We feel he must surely come unstuck as a result of setting up a dangerous situation purely in order that he can be there to film it – but he doesn’t. He has planned it to the last detail, even putting his hapless and now potentially treacherous assistant Rick (Riz Ahmed) in the firing line so that he can run his story without ever having to worry about being shopped to the cops.

We can’t help but admire his cunning and strategy. For instance, the footage he gets of a triple homicide minutes after the killers have left. He not only has the audacity to wander through the house filming the aftermath (a crime scene), he withholds the footage he got of the killers leaving in their SUV. Why? Because he is going to track them down by running an internet check against the SUV’s licence plate with the specific intention of calling the police only when both killers are in a public place where a shoot-out is likely to cause maximum collateral damage – in other words, provide him with big bucks news footage, which he will be well positioned to capture. His assistant Rick is appalled when he learns of Lou’s plans, but even he shows he is willing to go along with it – for a price. Everyone here has his price.

Scene from Nightcrwler - police visit Lou BloomScene from Nightcrwler - police visit Lou Bloom

Suspicious detectives visit Lou Bloom at his apartment

Whenever he encounters the police, Lou is polite and smiling, preemptively cooperative but slyly insolent too. Following the mayhem that ends with Rick getting shot by a killer they have been chasing, he is interviewed by a detective who already has her sights on him. Unsurprisingly he has a perfectly rehearsed lie to deliver that details quite meticulously how he came to follow and locate the wanted killers whose murderous work he had filmed just days before. Once again his gift for planning ahead and memorising detail keeps him one step ahead of the enemy.

All credit to the writer/director Dan Gilroy for not opting for a melodramatic ending so typical of third acts in Hollywood films. In fact the ending is eerily – almost comically – ironic: Lou now gets to give his straight-from-an-employer’s handbook speech to a new crew of interns before a new fleet of vans bearing his new logo that promises ‘professionally’ delivered news. When he tells them he would never ask of them something he wasn’t prepared to do himself, we can’t help but smile because we’ve just seen that he is prepared to bend every rule in the book and will even eliminate his new interns should they ever decide to turn against him. And so, Lou is allowed to spread his gospel further afield – and more nightcrawlers will ride out onto the streets of LA, seeking blood at the end of a shortwave radio.

One Response to “Nightcrawler – it’s not about the news, it’s about survival”

  1. Phil Taylor says:

    Another great review by Nic , of an excellent film with a classic tale that lives on the streets of our cities every day .

Leave a Reply

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Google PlusVisit Us On PinterestVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On LinkedinCheck Our Feed