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My 12 for ’14: Nightcrawler and Bleeding Leads…

With 2014 coming to a close, we’re counting down our top twelve films of the year. Check back daily for the latest featured film.

One of the most compelling criticisms of Nightcrawler is that the almost obligatory comparisons to Network are all too apt; that the film has not really bothered to update its social and political commentary for the twenty-first century. In many ways, this is true. The social satire at the heart of Nightcrawler is pretty familiar at this point. Lou Bloom is a young man who talks like a living and breathing self-help book, willing to do whatever is necessary to get ahead in life. It is just the latest in a long line of searing criticism of American capitalism.

After all, Nightcrawler would make a suitable companion piece to The Drop or Snowpiercer from this year; perhaps it make an interesting double-feature with Killing Them Softly from last year. The decision to focus this tale of exploitational capitalism on the media industry means that Network becomes the obvious point of comparison for Nightcrawler – just as 2001: A Space Odyssey inevitably comes up in discussions of Interstellar. If it feels like the satire has not really been updated, that is because that satire is still largely relevant.

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That said, Nightcrawler is just a stunningly well-produced film. Writer and director Dan Gilroy brings a delightfully kenetic energy to the movie. Cinematographer Robert Elswit helps to give the film a unique style by adopting a hybrid approach to filming the movie – the daylight scenes are shot on film, while the late-night sequences are shot on digital. This helps to create a clear sense of different between the Los Angeles seen during the day and nightmarish version present by Nightcrawler after dark.

However, Nightcrawler largely belongs to Jake Gyllenhaal, who provides one of the year’s most mesmorising lead performances as a young man willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. Whatever it takes.

nightcrawler1Lou Bloom would argue that the trick to success is self-actualisation. “I’m a hard worker,” he boasts. “I set high goals and I’ve been told that I’m persistent.” However, it quickly becomes clear that the key to Bloom’s success is a willingness to do whatever it takes to get ahead. When Bloom discovers that he can make money selling bloody footage to local new networks, he sets out to excel in that field. Bloom very shrewdly decides that he can get ahead by simply pushing further than any of his competitors.

The plot beats and arcs of Nightcrawler are quite familiar at this stage. Lou Bloom is a rather common character archetype; a sheer unrelenting capitalist, unfettered by guilt or decency or remorse. Bloom will do whatever he needs to do in order to make money, applying himself with a ruthless detachment to his chosen field. Nightcrawler introduces us to Bloom trying to subsidise his existence by selling scrap metal stolen from construction sites. He is a parasite, a man profiting off the suffering of others. To Bloom, “a friend is a gift you give yourself.”

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It is Gyllenhaal’s performance that sells the film. Looking gaunt, as if his eyes might pop out of his skull at any given moment, Gyllenhaal makes Bloom feel distinctly inhuman. Bloom feels like just as much an observer of human nature as the people watching the news that he provides. There is something uncanny about the character, something not quite right. Every line he utters feels rehearsed, cribbed from a library of vacuous self-help books that promise material success to those willing to invest in them.

As embodied by Gyllenhaal, Bloom feels predatory – a man immitating humanity as opposed to existing as part of it. Like any good hunter, Bloom has an eye for weakness – whether it’s the desperation of new producer Nina Romina or the sounds of human suffering echoing through the police channels or even the general public’s appetite for blood and suffering. Bloom is a character whose veneer of civility seems to exist as a tool, something he can leverage to get what he wants or what he feels he deserves.

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Dan Gilroy is an established screenwriter, but Nightcrawler is his directorial debut. The film has a tremendous energy, and a dark sense of humour that underscores its central points. A fascinating look at just how much of a virtue ruthlessness can be, Nightcrawler is a fascinating little film anchored in a mesmorising central performance.

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