“Bring me pictures of Spider-Man!”
Rene Russo’s TV news director never utters that iconic J. Jonah Jameson line in the crime thriller, “Nightcrawler,” but she may as well have. They all want the same thing.
Call it an indictment on the 24-hour news cycle, a proliferation of so-called citizen journalists or pandering to that inexplicable attraction to that which repulses us, but Russo knows what her audience wants. “If it bleeds, it leads,” she says.
Her station may be last in the ratings game, but her lust for graphic breaking footage is just as desperate. In fact, so insatiable is the market that it has spawned an entire industry of “nightcrawlers,” media freelancers who patrol the streets with a police scanner and video camera.
This is all news (see what I did there?) to Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) when he first stumbles onto the scene of a grizzly accident. Bloom is something of a creature of the night himself, an oddball eking-out a living on the margins of society, when he meets veteran cameraman Bill Paxton filming the carnage. Bloom is a quick study (and BS artist) and soon becomes Russo’s primary go-to guy.
Gyllenhaal plays Bloom masterfully; he is all at once a creep, professional, poseur and auteur — like the hopefully delusional Eric Binford in “Fade to Black.” For a while you can’t help but respect his drive, but when he crosses the ethics line (and it’s a very thin line, by the way… microscopic, really) things get interesting.
It begins innocently when he drags a corpse towards better lighting, but when he beats the police to a reported violent home invasion, he’s poised to take a proactive role in the coverage from which he cannot recoil.
Writer/Director Dan Gilroy tries to throw off the scent of the macabre underbelly that is the after-hours urban experience. He does this through subterfuge, like Russo’s casual dismissal of “routine” carjackings. “That’s not news,” she chides. “Urban crime creeping into suburbs is news” … at least to her audience. But don’t get hung up on the subtext. This is a white-knuckler that kept me focused the entire time.
Russo and Paxton don’t disappoint, neither does Riz Ahmed as Bloom’s “intern” Rick. But the real draw is Gyllenhaal, whose gaunt face and vapid stare, like the carnage he films, is impossible to look away from.
The writing is solid and the mood is edgy.