‘Nightcrawler’ – A Modern Day Parable

I’ll be honest, when I first saw this film advertised I thought it was an origins story for the teleporting, acrobatic superhero of the same name. And I was pretty excited. I hadn’t seen any trailers and hadn’t heard anything about it when I watched it, which is rare for me, but it took about 30 seconds to realise this was anything but a superhero story. Instead, Dan Gilroy’s ‘Nightcrawler’ is a shocking moral lesson in the dangers of consumerism and the evil of the media. The reason I call it a “modern day parable” is because it’s rare to watch a film with such an obvious lesson to be learnt from it. Most films are really quite subjective, and the true meaning is up to you to decide, but with this I think it’s so obvious what Gilroy wants to tell us that there can be less debate. As I said with ‘Get Out’, genre is difficult to define with ‘Nightcrawler’. I suppose calling it a thriller would be most appropriate, however it certainly incorporates dark (pitch-black) comedic, neo-noir and dramatic elements.

At its core, this is a film about people and the way we are, and Gilroy teaches us a lesson by creating a full cast of despicable characters. Seriously, I can’t think of one ‘good’ person in this film. The acting is brilliant from all the cast; Paxton plays one of Lou’s antagonists excellently, Russo is a frighteningly complex character (more on that later), and Ahmed serves the role of the audience in this film, more or less doing what we would do in his position (mostly). It’s awesome to see Riz Ahmed’s career really taking of, having now starred in this, ‘Rogue One’, ‘The Night Of’, and ‘Jason Bourne’, Ahmed is all set to become the global superstar he deserves to be. Becoming the first ever South-Asian to win a lead acting Emmy is an enormous inspiration to all British-Asians aspiring to make it in film. It’s particularly strange to see him play a serious role so expertly, as I first saw him in British classic comedy, ‘Four Lions’, one of the funniest films ever made. Whilst the supporting cast are all excellent, this film belongs to Jake Gyllenhaal. Every movie Gyllenhaal is in, I go and see because I just know it’s going to be excellent; he has one of the most consistently strong filmographies of any actor, including ‘End of Watch’, ‘Brokeback Mountain’, ‘October Sky’, ‘Stronger’, Prisoners’, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ and ‘Southpaw’. He’s one of the few actors who I don’t think has ever been out-acted in a scene before, and that says a lot. The fact that he has never received an Academy Award is a travesty, and I think no film of his deserved it more than ‘Nightcrawler’. Gyllenhaal’s Lou is a vile character, who kills, lies and steals to get ahead, and does it all with a huge smile on his face. He is someone who is obsessed with becoming successful. On numerous occasions throughout the film we see him see something he wants, a jealous look flicker across his face, and then that thing belongs to him in the next scene. Furthermore, the things he is obsessed with are rarely things that matter; they’re all the most materialistic symbols of greed that we could imagine, such as a watch, a bike, a car (the first thing he buys with his new money), and even sex from Nina.

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So what is ‘Nightcrawler’ actually trying to teach us? Gilroy has tried to make the point in interviews that we should really all be looking at ourselves when we judge Lou, as Lou’s character is created by demand. We all watch and buy into sensationalised stories on the news, so obviously characters like Lou are going to develop to fulfil our demand; by staging crime scenes and filming rather than helping, he is merely giving the public what they actually want to watch. This type of lesson to learn feels reminiscent of a ‘Black Mirror’ type twist, where we realise that in fact we as a society are the real problem. Nina is just as bad: she sensationalises stories and deliberately panics people just to boost views, she only wants headlines to do with a specific demographic of middle-class white people, and uses illegal footage with very little hesitation. Whilst Lou is just a man wanting to capitalise on the evil he already knows exists in the world, perhaps Nina is the evil itself; a modern day Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. We also learn a lesson from Rick, who for the most part is afraid of Lou and seems to act the way we would as an audience. However, at the end, he begins to demand more money from Lou, and this proves to be his undoing, as he ends up dead all because he got too greedy.

There’s a huge amount that we should take away from ‘Nightcrawler’, largely the fact that consumerism is not what’s most important, the media always have their own agenda, and perhaps we as a society create characters like Lou. We’ve all been guilty of clicking on articles on Facebook with sensationalised headlines, and in this way we give the media license to effectively lie and panic us, and not give us the information we really need. But really, the moral lesson is not the reason you should watch this film; it’s for yet another Jake Gyllenhaal acting masterclass. He portrays Lou as friendly psychopath; terrifying, yet funny. Ruthless, yet naive. The descent of Lou into greed is particularly enjoyable to watch; he begins with stepping over a police line into a house. Next, he moves a body to make for a better shot. Before we know it, he’s editing clips to hide things from the police, he’s blackmailing Nina for sex, and he’s sabotaging vans to murder. He really does become a monster, but maybe he’s a monster society created, and one we should all learn from.

Best scene: The dinner

Best character: Nina

Best actor/actress: Jake Gyllenhaal

Best quote: “I would never ask you to do anything that I would not do myself.” – Lou

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