Everything they tell you not to do at journalism school
Written and directed by Dan Gilroy, this film follows a jaded Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal): a night-time cameraman (or nightcrawler) who tracks accidents as they happen to get raw footage for TV stations.
Set in LA predominantly at night, the setting makes for lots of aesthetic dusk shots as well as featuring the eerie streets of downtown Los Angeles. The idea of what goes on when most people are asleep has always been creepy: couple that with a wide-eyed, gaunt Gyllenhaal, and you’re practically asking for nightmares.
To say Bloom is unhinged is an understatement – but no one can resist a psychopath, and this is no exception. At the start of the movie, we see him jobless and hustling for whatever he can get his hands on.
Just when he seems to have reached the peak of despair, he witnesses a rather gory car accident that brings him face to face with an opportunity.
A couple of cameramen are filming the crash victims, despite pleas from the police to get back. You can see the opportunism in Bloom’s eyes as he asks them what station they work for and if they’re hiring. One cameraman (Bill Paxton) explains that they’re freelancers who shoot immediate footage of accidents and then flog it to whichever network pays the most. Bloom takes this information and runs with it, or rather, speeds down the highway, straight to the nearest camera shop. He also picks up a police scanner so he can quite literally hear crimes as they happen, to get a leg up on the scoop. Totally illegal, but ingenious, nonetheless.
He forms an alliance with Nina (Rene Russo), a ruthless owner of a TMZ-like station. Keen to improve their ratings, she sees a golden ticket in Bloom as her new favourite cameraman. There’s even a slight love interest there, but it’s short-lived given that he is, of course, a PSYCHO.
Realising he could do the job twice as fast if he had some help, he seeks out and hires a sidekick. This comes in the form of Rick (Riz Ahmed): an equally desperate man who, at first, appears to be two sandwiches short of a picnic. However, it quickly becomes clear that he is in fact the sane one of the two.
There’s something truly thrilling about watching people with nothing to lose do whatever they have to do to make a quick buck.
The further down the rabbit hole he gets, the more he’s willing to do to impress the stations and raise his price. It takes perverting the course of justice to a whole new level.
The movie itself makes deep observations about the modern media sphere. As humans, we have an obsession with evil and true crime. Certain media outlets manipulate this impulse and as a result, will go to questionable lengths to get a story or a picture. It’s all for views and ratings, so it’s evidently what we want to see. This film is as much a thriller as it is a rather accurate reflection of the tabloids today. We claim to hate them, but more often than not, we can’t look away.
A character doesn’t have to be good to be likeable. Lou fits this description perfectly because despite all his faults, you sort of respect how far he’s willing to go to be good at something.
What also becomes clear is that the evil is not so much in the one shooting the footage but in the TV station paying for it, whilst yearning for more each time. Dangerously lacking in both empathy and social cues, Lou Bloom is basically Rubert Murdoch’s idea of ’employee of the month’.
It’s been months since I saw this film and it’s as vivid in my mind now as it was then.
Worth the hype? Intrusive and shocking, I honestly couldn’t take my eyes off it. Yes.