[Film Review] “Nightcrawler” – Sociopaths Make Great Business-men.

(Or do businessmen make great sociopaths?)

Recently, a tragedy occurred in my home state that gained some national news coverage. A young girl went missing for about a month, and her remains were found in a field. Every so often, I’d log onto Facebook and see a friend posted an article about either the victim or suspected killer. Names, faces, schools they attended; essentially short biographies. And every so often, my mother would ask me, “have you heard the latest about ______ ______?” I never followed the story because I did not want to know. I assumed the worst, and figured that was enough. I don’t need to know the name of the killer. I don’t need to see the victim’s life story spelled out in strange detail for national consumption. And I certainly did not need to know that she had been, as my mother put it, “picked clean by buzzards.”

I don’t mean to shame anyone who does follow national news stories like this, but I do think it is a strange phenomenon. We construct characters and plot-lines and collectively engage in real life murder mystery. And in a world where crime has become narrative, journalism has become theater, and news stories have become story-telling, Nightcrawler’s Lou Bloom is a true auteur.

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal in his most memorable role to-date, this film was not the first to satirize sensationalism this year (Gone Girl, Birdman), but it was certainly the most effective in that realm. This is partly due to a fantastic scene in which we are behind-the-scenes during a news broadcast featuring footage of the aftermath of a home invasion. We hear as the production crew feed lines to the news anchors, who give live commentary overtop of the footage. The broadcast is elegantly executed, all while the maestro watches with a giant grin. The gore is pixelated on-air at the behest of one of the production assistants. In fact, during the scene where Bloom actually films the footage in question, much of the gruesome imagery is only shown in the small screen of his camera as opposed to directly to the audience. Violence is being filtered through multiple layers of screens and lenses throughout the film, both by fictional characters and ourselves as moviegoers. Does this make it less horrifying? Why?

Nightcrawler is not just a thriller/satire about sensationalism, but a hyperrealistic guide on how to make it in America. I was repeatedly reminded of a Jon Stewart quote concerning the conservative idea of corporate personhood: “corporations are people, we’ve learned, but generally they’re sociopaths.” The behavior of successful businesses in free markets often involves varying levels of exploitation and deception. Cutthroat competition. So who better to achieve the American Dream than the sociopathic Bloom, who opens the movie by (*small spoiler*) murdering a police officer and stealing his watch? On the surface this scene may seem out of place, but it establishes the metaphor. We’re dealing with someone who will not only eliminate anyone who challenges his livelihood (Bloom was stealing scrap metal to sell), but also wants what you have and is willing to take it. In other words, a good businessman.

Bloom eventually witnesses some nightcrawlers (freelance crime journalists) filming a car accident, and an entrepreneur is born. Bloom demands that the news station he sells footage to credit his company by its full name, “Video Production News: A Professional News Company,” a title so bland its funny and appropriately universal for a satire. Bloom’s confidence and demands to be taken seriously are one of the many ways that he relates several almost cliche lessons for making it in the business world. He monologues about how communication is key, talks about learning new skills to put the company on a path towards growth, and of course delivers the iconic line, “if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.” But when these typically cheesy slogans about success come from Bloom, they become sinister; the manic ramblings of a person who is barely holding it together and yet totally in control. He even manages to strike the ideal balance of business and pleasure that everyone strives for, as he begins to see himself as an artist. He is willing to enter active crime scenes and manipulate dead bodies to get the perfect shot, and gives his footage titles on his laptop such as, “Toddler Stabbed.” Do what you love, love what you do.

As a satire, Nightcrawler is on par with films like American Psycho, but I must admit I was a bit disappointed with the film as a thriller. Not because the film didn’t have any thrills, but because they were all spoiled by the trailers. If you watch any full length trailer for this film before you see it, you will see every “thrill” the movie has to offer without context. So as soon as you recognize the scenery, you already know what’s coming. It’s a disappointing trend in the film industry, and unfortunately this film falls victim. Avoid the trailers if possible (or maybe just don’t watch them as obsessively as I did while waiting for this film to come out over the summer). In any case, do go see Nightcrawler. It’s intense, surprisingly funny, features a fantastic lead performance as a soon-to-be classic character, and may just make you question yourself. And that is worth something.

4.5/5

Written by Brandon Sodhi.

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