Have you ever seen a movie and the sleaze and subject of it just made you want to take a shower? Nightcrawler, directed by Dan Gilroy, will leave you wanting to take a mental shower and clear your brain. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as an unemployed loser, stealing copper wire and bikes to live. One day he happens by a fatal car accident and gets out of the car to take a look. He is surprised to see Joe Loder, played by Bill Paxton, whizzing by, after he took close-up video of the graphic injuries, until the Police shooed him away. He asks Loder a few questions and is given some advice. Jake buys a camera and a scanner and starts learning police codes so he can get to a “good one”. The film takes place in downtown Los Angeles and features beautiful estates and high-end shops. There is a darker, grittier side too and that’s where he goes “crawling” for footage.
Rene Russo plays Nina Romina, an aging executive news director at one of the local newscasts. She appears to be a workaholic who gave her all to the job and is left with nothing for herself, a worn out shell of her former days as a beautiful, young reporter. Jake takes his invasive and graphic footage to her. Some of the scenes he has filmed push the boundaries of ethics and what should be shown on T.V. Romina, looking ahead to sweeps-week, has no moral issue with a camera being shoved in the face of a bleeding, dying person. This film is very dark, evoking feelings of desperation and death and pain. It builds that sense of dread very well and made me think of the first time I saw Full Metal Jacket . I can’t really say I liked it but it was very provocative.
Two bright spots in the film are a news assistant played by Kiff VandenHuevel, and Jakes partner, Rick Garcia (played by himself) who assists with directions and shooting footage with Jake. The news assistant takes Russo aside on several occasions and tries to persuade her to see the human side of the footage and implores her not to run some of it.
My problem with this film is that none of the characters are likable people, except for, perhaps, the news assistant. Jake arrives at the scene of a triple murder before the police and gets video of the killers and their van and two dead people and one who is still breathing. He doesn’t call 911 and goes straight to Romino. After that all hell breaks loose but because everyone involved is just oozing with sleaze, by that point you’re really don’t care. Normally I love very dark, noir-ish films but this one misses the mark. It does raise some interesting questions about our need to be a voyeur and the human tendency to stop and look at train wrecks. Give it a look on a day when you’re already in a bad mood.