by NEVIL GIBSON
The salacious side of the news media has long been fodder for the film industry.
Since the 1930s, with the emergence of radio broadcasting and, later, television, Hollywood has viewed the visual news business more as rivals than allies.
This has not been the case with newspapers, whose journalists are more likely to be seen as heroes for
their investigative skills and abilities to right wrongs.
So there is a wide gap between the cynical reporter Kirk Douglas played in Ace in the Hole (1951) and the Robert Redford-Dustin Hoffman combination of All the President’s Men (1976).
More recently, the pack journalism of 24-hour TV news has a largely negative role in Gone Girl as the news channels stake out the house of a missing minor celebrity.
Nightcrawler (Madman) is another creepy thriller that combines biting satire of the news media’s hunger for ratings and sensationalism with the familiar “noir” crime stories of Los Angeles writers Raymond
Chandler and James Ellroy.
Jake Gyllenhaal, in a role that will surely be Oscar nominated, stars as Lou Bloom, a freelance video camcorderist who sells lurid crime footage to a local TV station.
His character is near-sociopathic in his dedication to corporate objectives and jargon picked up from the Internet.
He has a career “rule book”, but as he becomes more adept at his scoops — even acing a veteran (Tom Paxton) — his shaky ethics threaten to overwhelm him.
He works by night, monitoring police radio for anything that “bleeds” — the primary condition Jake for being accepted by a ruthless news editor (Rene Russo).
The ratings require her to feed the insatiable breakfast appetite of audiences for live crosses to the litany of violent nightly crime scenes, fires and road crashes in Bloom’s footage. It’s even better
if the images project a prevailing obsession that they are threatening to spread into respectable suburbs.
Bloom quickly builds his business by hiring a young homeless Latino (Riz Ahmed, of The Reluctant Fundamentalist) as a sidekick.
His occasional squeamishness provides some balance to Bloom’s instincts, which send him spiralling
into the gutter of news gathering.
This is heady stuff, even for fans of hardboiled LA film-noir thrillers such as Chinatown (1974), Heat (1995), LA Confidential (1997) and Drive (2011).
Daylight is seldom glimpsed in Nightcrawler and Robert Elswit’s brooding photography provides unfamilar visuals of that sprawling metropolis.
All this is a credit to the talented Gilroy family, who include debut writer-director Dan (co-writer
of The Bourne Legacy), producer Tony (writer-director of Michael Clayton) and Dan’s twin John, a
skilled editor (Michael Clayton).
(Not surprisingly, their father is Broadway playwright Frank D. Gilroy, source of such films as The
Subject Was Roses.)
Rating: Restricted to audiences over 16; 117 minutes.
by NEVIL GIBSON