The one point that director Dan Gilroy’s latest film hammers home to moviegoers is that we’ve emerged as a society with an inherent morbid curiosity. We seek out and are drawn to this fascination with other’s death or unpleasant circumstances. Feeding this obsession with over-the-top gruesomeness is a news media hell-bent on higher ratings at any cost. “Nightcrawler” unapologetically illustrates the high price television stations are willing to pay to get that grisly, leading story even if truth and fairness must be discarded to the side as collateral damage. Gilroy’s vision for the movie is either a tongue-and-cheek play upon our grim desires as consumers of news or a gallant effort on his part to bring awareness to society’s lack of respect and dignity for one another. Regardless, “Nightcrawler” is a dark and disturbing thriller about the sick, reciprocal relationship between television viewers and the media.
Jake Gyllenhaal is superb as the emotionally troubled and socially awkward freelance cameraman capturing overnight violence for Los Angeles’ TV audiences. Intellectually brilliant yet residing firmly within the autism spectrum, Gyllenhaal’s character skillfully manipulates others to achieve his primary goal of notoriety through violent videos.
Nominated for an Academy Award in 2005’s “Brokeback Mountain”, this unhinged role brings us a much darker and more unusual Gyllenhaal than we’ve seen in other films. His demeanor is believably off-kilter with a dangerous, menacing angle that taps into the fears of his bright supporting cast–especially his sidekick and videographer Rick (exceptionally played by Riz Ahmed).
Any discomfort viewers have watching this film is easily overmatched by one’s inability to turn away from the action, underscoring the strength of “Nightcrawler” and Gilroy’s salacious direction. The message of the movie is clear; as we become more immune to violence in our lives and build up a tolerance, the media must work harder to induce fear in their TV viewers. Not any crime story, however, will do. It must make the untouchable now feel touchable. Spinning this vicious cycle of violence through fear creates a slippery slope of media reporting that fuels higher ratings, burying any feel-good stories to later in a news cycle. Although we hate our penchant for this type of reporting, there’s no denying it exists or our uneasiness with it. It’s this unmistakable draw and one’s level of discomfort that “Nightcrawler” is counting on from filmgoers to make it a success.
“Nightcrawler” has been nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Screenplay category. Available now on DVD and Blu-ray at Netflix and Redbox. “Nightcrawler” is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 57 minutes.
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