Nightcrawler Dan Gilroy

Nightcrawler Dan Gilroy
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Much of the dialogue about Dan Gilroy's sociologically incisive thriller-cum-psychodrama, Nightcrawler, revolves around how dark it is. It's been categorized as cynical by some, and has challenged many others by criticising norms and implicating the viewer for their involvement as passive spectator. We, like the many viewers of KTLA, the station where Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) peddles his graphic videos of accident victims, are creating the very climate of Nightcrawler's world by voyeuristically indulging in the tragedy of others.
 
Lou's disposition stems from a combination of generational and economic discord. Having been born into a computing generation, Lou's sense of humanity and compassion is stunted; his engagement with the world is cold and functional, serving only himself and his sense of survivalist entitlement. This is why his mode of self-sustainment, one that's fuelled out of necessity and limited career opportunities, is simultaneously callous and necessary. Sadly, it's one of the few things that his surrounding world — a world that would otherwise allow Lou to fade into the periphery — needs him for. 
 
Writer/director Dan Gilroy develops these concepts through character actions and behaviours, not once resorting to expository rants or patronizing contextualization. We see Lou's limited economic prospects and observe his awkward, albeit pointed and precise, mode of communication and functioning, giving an overall off-putting sense of discomfort. Lou's steadfast determination in the world of ambulance chasing is singularly impressive, adhering to the very sense of ambition and success that we, as a society, theoretically value above most other things. Gyllenhaal captures this terrifying, solipsistic sense of determination impeccably, having a persistent sense of hunger and potential chaos behind his wild eyes while he presents a disturbingly formal and mostly controlled sense of professionalism to the world around him.
 
Gilroy's sense of progression, while linear and ostensibly classicist, does a fantastic job of building dread and unease. Where Lou's success should conceivably result in audience catharsis, his unscrupulous behaviour, blackmailing news editor Nina (Rene Russo) for financial and carnal gain and exploiting a desperate and destitute employee (Riz Ahmed), becomes more erratic and terrifying the more successful he becomes. The point is clear: In an increasingly disconnected world, the American dream is becoming (or already is) inherently sociopathic.
 
While most feel more comfortable labelling this observation as "cynical" or "dark," the reality — and the reason the tone of Nightcrawler is problematic for some — is that it's not overly far-fetched. In the feature commentary and the brief supplement included with the Blu-ray, Dan Gilroy discusses his intentions and his perceptions of the current social spectrum. While the focus of the discussion is often superficial — noting Gyllenhaal's weight loss for the role or the styles utilized — there are some shrewd assessments of just where the status quo is going wrong. 
 
Though there is something a tad glib about calling this the ultimate success story, it's not that far off the mark. Despite not quite going as far as it could have or successfully projecting itself behind the seedy nightlife of Los Angeles, Nightcrawler was one of the most vital narratives of 2014, having its finger on the pulse of modern culture and having more to say about it than most facile regurgitations of social media malaise.

(Elevation Pictures)