A friend is a gift you give yourself
This is a quote from Lou Bloom, as a video journalist in the brand new film Nightcrawler. Directed and written by Dan Gilroy, this is the story of a man who would do anything, and I mean that literally, to get a story sold. Lou Bloom isn’t a writer. His stories are videos he’s shot and then sells to a TV station as breaking news. When we meet Lou, portrayed by a peculiarly charismatic Jake Gyllenhaal, he’s desperate for work. So much so, that he’d cut down and steal chain link fences to sell them as scrap metal. Only his scrap metal buyer says he won’t hire Lou because he has a strict policy – he doesn’t hire thieves.
So Lou is down on his luck. He also says, If you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket.
But even those with bad luck, sometimes catch a break. One night Lou is driving around and he happens upon a fresh auto accident. So fresh that the police are still struggling to get an injured driver out of a car. Instead of just rubbernecking as he rolls by, Lou stops, and as he gets out of his car, a couple of guys with cameras run past him. They are eager to shoot video of the wreck and the injured man. Afterward Lou hears them discussing the video and he asks one of them, what he’s going to do with the video.
Bill Paxton has the role and he tells Lou – I’m going to sell it to a TV News station for the morning news. If it bleeds, it leads…is how Paxton’s character colorfully describes his work. Lou is instantly intrigued and asks if they are hiring. They aren’t but Lou knows what’s he going to do next. Trade his next batch of stolen chain link fencing for a camcorder and a police scanner.
He also needs a guy to help him, the whole business is geared toward being first on the scene, shooting the video, and then getting it to a TV station before the next guy. Lou has a lot to learn, he calls himself a quick learner, and he is smart enough to know that he can’t walk and chew gum at the same time – or in this case – drive, listen to the screeches on the police band, then navigate to the scene by himself. So he puts an ad in the paper looking for an assistant. or as Lou describes the job – a non-paying position as an intern. He finds another guy down on his luck.
It is an internship to begin with – but you’ve got to think long-range
The guy has a cell phone with GPS and a driver’s license. Lou doesn’t want to pay the guy, but this guy Rick says he has to get something – so the agreed upon amount is $30 a night.
So they get to work – Lou drives, Rick navigates. Most of the time, we watch as they race around in the middle of the night on the streets of LA. With Lou in a huge rush, these are nerve-wracking thrill rides, and the camera work is excellent.
Eventually they get to a scene where there’s been a shooting. The guy is still on the ground and gushing blood. Lou gets his shot and heads over to Channel Six where Renee Russo, who is married to Dan Gilroy, works the overnight shift as News Director. Now this TV station has the look of a news show desperate for breaking news. They are at the bottom of the ratings chart. So Lou sells the video for the low-ball offer of $250. But a relationship is formed.
What Gilroy’s film is about on the surface is the story of a nightcrawler – a guy who drives around LA’s mean streets at night looking to cash in on someone else’s misfortune. And not accidentally or coincidentally, the local TV news stations are in the same business. It is sordid on as many different levels as you can think of. Lou is not an ambulance chaser. In his business, he has to arrive on the scene before the ambulances. Or if he’s really lucky – even before the police.
And this is where we get hooked by this tale. Lou is not the least bit likeable. He’s manipulative, and he’s a bottom feeder, and if he arrives on the scene early enough – he gets to shoot the video, the way he wants, and then sell it and that’s how he makes his money. We know immediately that we don’t like him, but yet he has a commanding presence, and at times it is impossible to take your eyes off him. He’s forceful and he’s direct, and he does his homework.
We root for him initially, and yet, one isn’t sure if this is proper. I mean – couldn’t he do something else. Couldn’t he do better by Rick, his assistant, and then Russo’s Nina Romina. But, the way Gyllenhaal plays him, we are eventually dragged into his excesses, and we know that this isn’t a good guy. And that’s what I meant when I called him peculiarly charismatic. You’d like to look away but you can’t.
I’ll rate this film as a four point zero. Gilroy’s story is a lot to deal with. Not so much for what Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom does, but rather for the way we are drawn into the story and captured/hooked by it. We are thrilled when we aren’t horrified. And even when we are horrified, we absolutely want to see the film continue down its chosen path. It is as if we wish we weren’t there, watching, or even in Lou’s car as he is right behind the police who are right behind the perp in a high-speed chase right on the city streets, but we are, and isn’t it thrilling.