featured picture from independant.co.uk

Overshadowed as it stands by other big titles (Ben Affleck’s Gone Girl or Nolan’s Interstellar), one discovers Nightcrawler almost by accident. Crammed in between Horrible Bosses 2 and yet another Hunger Games title, what one sees on the poster pretty much epitomizes the movie. Jake Gyllenhaal is quite literally the driving force of the story, delivering a lethally charismatic Lou Bloom.

“Are you hiring?” is the question on his lips, a question that never receives a right answer. If it is possible to predict the story at the get-go, it is nonetheless impossible to look away from Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of Lou’s excessive, almost unnatural ambition. In a warped scenario of an American dream, Lou Bloom finds his niche after witnessing a car accident. He watches as independent cameraman Joe Loder (Bill Paxton) captures the gruesome images of the victim’s rescue, images he would later sell to the local news. Loder refuses to hire him so he decides to take matters into his own hands.

photo from nytimes

Armed with a radio scanner and a subpar camera both obtained from a pawn shop, Lou jump starts his career by invading crime scenes. He propels us through maddening car chases and voyeur closeups of horrifying sights. And he does it consistently with a cool, detached demeanor, so as to make us wonder: how much sympathy does this man really have?

The answer is zero, of course.

His thirst for especially gruesome scenes, mirrors that of local news director Nina Romina’s (Rene Russo, Gilroy’s wife), who takes him under her wing and pays for his films. His constant provision of new, ever more shocking material reverses the positions of power: Lou rises above and threatens to sell to their competitors if she refuses his sexual advances. Nina’s concern for her own career pushes her to comply.

Visually, the movie delivers incredibly scenic, nerve-wracking car chases taking us through Los Angeles’ streets aboard Lou’s red mustang, something that couldn’t scream American Dream more loudly. The movie befittingly delivers its most visually powerful moments at night, where camera lights and bloody crime scenes contrast with the surrounding darkness. Accompanied by the haunting, and at times groovy soundtrack (courtesy of James Newton Howard), one seems to be watching a particularly thrilling episode of World’s Wildest Police Videos.

photo from screeninvasion

Praises are also in due to Riz Ahmed’s acting here, who manages to play the lowly, insecure and almost completely naïve Rick to perfection. Rick’s nervousness and incompetence are a perfect balance to Gyllenhaal’s cold, wide-eyed objectivity. Initially hired by Lou for his ability to use a GPS (a very handy device when one tries to beat the competition to the gory crime scenes) we watch him gulp down his uneasiness as Lou consistently manipulates and exploits him. Rick is not exactly the voice of reason so much as a helpless spectator. At first too inexperienced to raise any objection, he makes a perfect companion for a highly ambitious sociopath like Bloom. Yet, much like the viewer, he also ends up figuring out that he is in the hands of a dangerous man.

Nightcrawler ends in Lou Bloom’s triumph, one punctuated by a groovy track “If It Bleeds It Leads”, and it really is as it should be. If the movie presents itself as a satire of greed, media, culture, violence and voyeurism, then it can only do so by having its protagonist succeed. This, in turn, positions us in a precarious position: where do we exactly fit in the picture? Lou unsettles us because he is the media; the play of the camera and the images he captures are fodder to the viewer’s desires too. We’re no less prey to him than Nina is. His manipulation of the events and people around him is just as unethical as what Nina does in her construction of news stories. Thus, Nightcrawler consciously alerts to the omnipresence of fiction in what many of us take for granted; news programs meant to inform us on current issues are revealed to be the result of omission, manipulation and artifice. As aesthetically appealing as it is, the movie enlightens by its very exposition of the mechanics of storytelling, leaving us to ask ourselves this question: Where does reality end and fiction begin?