Nightcrawler lacks concrete appeal

Some holidays, like Independence Day and Christmas, lend themselves to movies. It’s a good way to spend time with family and friends who you actually want to ignore. Other holidays, like the Super Bowl and Halloween, mean empty theaters for a significant portion of the weekend. This Halloween, that’s Friday night, probably the worst possible time. So, most major studios have bailed on the release date, leaving strange arthouse movie Nightcrawler as the only new widely released material this weekend.

Let’s get one thing straight — freelance journalists can’t afford cars like this no matter how dominant they are in their own market. Photo courtesy Open Road Films.

Nightcrawler’s release shows admirable opportunism in a couple of ways. It’s taking advantage of two gaps in the movie market — both the general lack of new material on Halloween weekend and the lack of Oscar-hyped movies in wide release in general. Fury, Gone Girl and Men, Women & Children are all old news, and this film gets in just under the wire set by Interstellar.

Sadly, in order to maximize profits, Open Road Films put together a hard-hitting, high-action trailer that covers the climax of pretty much every major scene. Any time trailers spoil a movie it’s a letdown, but Nightcrawler in particular didn’t have anything else to offer but suspense over decisions whose outcome viewers will already know going in.

The film is about Lou Bloom (a strange actor in a latex Jake Gyllenhaal mask), a true-blue psychopath who discovers the trashy underground world of freelance crime reporting in Los Angeles. Bloom quickly works his way up the chain, eventually creating and staging his own crimes to report on, just as the audience always knew he would from the trailer.

In the first scene, Bloom is working as a scrap metal collector, cutting down fence wire to sell. He’s caught by a guard, whom he kills for his watch. This scene completely ruins the rest of the movie, even for those who avoided the trailer. Nightcrawler later tries to build suspense over how far Bloom is willing to go, but that suspense was already broken. He killed a man for his possessions, already sinking to the lowest possible level of moral depravity, in the very first scene. There’s no character arc. There’s no descent into madness due to the struggles of “nightcrawling.” Dude was already crazy. The rest of the plot is a matter of course.

Frankly, it’s strange Bloom would even look for work at all. He’s clearly willing to kill for things of value, why doesn’t he just do that for a living?

Throughout, the movie makes poor use of montages to skip over content that becomes important later. Particularly, it skips over Bloom’s developing relationship with his employee, Rick (Riz Ahmed), which becomes central to the climax. The audience is supposed to wonder whether or not Bloom will really stab his friend in the back. It’s ruined by that first scene, like everything else, but it’s doubly ruined by the fact that the movie fast-forwarded through Rick and Bloom becoming the best crime-filming duo in the city. Their relationship is not important at all to the audience.

In addition to being poorly used, the montages themselves are poor. They’re too long and filled mostly with nonsense shots. An extended close-up of an airdancer springs to mind.

In an earlier draft of the script, I’m sure Bloom named his camera Simba after how often he’s raising it over his head.

Outside of that first scene, the movie also does a poor job of conveying how badly Bloom is behaving. Journalists put a lot of effort into logistics and news decisions and making sure everything is in active voice, but it’s not the type of stuff anyone wants to watch. No one with only a passing knowledge of photojournalism will completely understand how unethical some of Bloom’s actions are and how important the coverage he’s providing is for news crews. Nightcrawler does not communicate everything that’s going on in many of its scenes to the audience.

Gyllenhaal is clearly acting his heart out, but why? Fun? Vanity? He also produces. It seems like simple Oscar-bait — Oscar reel moments are crammed in for his character at every turn. But those moments aren’t any different from one another. See one, you’ve seen them all. This type of character is inherently one-dimensional and doesn’t shine as brightly when forced to be a lead.

That in mind, it’s hard to find a reason to sit through this thing for almost two hours.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and news editor for the NT Daily. I’ve had a change of heart about reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Happy Halloween little childrens! Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter when I can be bothered to make one, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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