'Nightcrawler' spurs conflicting feelings, doubt
Friday, Oct. 31 marked the premiere of the new movie “Nightcrawler” starring Jake Gyllenhaal. I had the privilege of attending this contemporary thriller on what is arguably the scariest night of the year: Halloween. "Nightcrawler’s" release date falling on Halloween was far from accidental because it is a twisted nightmare of a movie that will leave you walking out of the theater feeling perturbed and pensive.
“Nightcrawler” is not your stereotypical horror story. There are no gruesome murder scenes, no bloodthirsty killer and no innocent victims in the wrong place at the wrong time. This movie terrifies in a much more subtle way.
First of all, to understand the film’s title you must understand where the term "nightcrawler" comes from. The Oxford dictionary definition of a "nightcrawler" is a large earthworm found in the soil surface at night. In the film, the term has a bit of a different meaning — it is used to describe the eager camera men trolling the streets of LA late at night in search of graphic footage they can sell to the local news stations. The relationship between the formal definition and the slang term is clear. Earth worms are thought of as dirty and repulsive creatures, slinking around and going about their business under the cover of night. These camera men have a similar lifestyle; lurking in the night and taking care of business in the dark. Their business could definitely be seen as dirty. A nightcrawler’s job is to hope for some catastrophic misfortune to befall someone so they can exploit that person’s misery for a quick buck. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character even says, “I like to say if you see me, your having the worst day of your life.”
Gyllenhaal’s character is a man named Lou, who appears to be down on his luck, jobless and living in the streets of Los Angeles. Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) is immediately shown to be an extremely intelligent individual who isn’t afraid to do some morally questionable things in order to fulfill his own needs. At first, his moral transgressions are minor — a lot of stealing and knocking out a security guard. As the movie progresses, it becomes clear that Lou will do practically anything to accomplish his goals. What I found interesting was that Lou isn’t changing, it’s the audience’s view of Lou that changes. Originally there is the impression that he’s just a misunderstood genius who was never given given a chance. He’s just doing what he needs to do to survive, right? As the film progresses, the audience's understanding of Lou does too. We begin to understand who he really is and what his true nature is — this is what makes this movie so terrifying.
"Nightcrawler’s" ethos doesn’t just come from Lou though, realism in the the film’s cinematography is also very good. There are certain scenes where you feel like you're standing beside Lou holding that camera. It really adds to the tension of some scenes and keeps you at the edge of your seat.
There were a few things that the filmmakers could have done better job of. The biggest problem was the music. It just didn’t seem to line up with a lot of the story. There were times when Lou had done something unspeakable, and the background music was giving the impression that he had just accomplished something or he was discovering something, but in a positive light. This left me feeling conflicted at times and it took away from the overall story. Were they expecting me to root for him? Was I supposed to do things his way? Well, I didn’t, and I’m sure any non-sociopathic individual would be on the same page.
This screw-up led to the overall feel of the movie being off. This problem was apparent all the way through the ending. I was expecting the conflicted feelings to be resolved at the end, but they weren’t. In fact, the only thing the ending succeeded in doing was adding to those feelings. It left me with the impression that I was supposed to be in support of Lou’s moral misgivings. This is what left me so unsettled walking out of the theater. It is possible all of this was intentional, but, even if it was, it did’t help my impression of the movie in any way.
Despite "Nightcrawler’s" strengths, these few issues are enough to place it on the wrong side of the line that separates a good movie from a great movie. It’s a pity because without them this film had the potential to leave a real impression — to set the tone for thrillers to come. Instead, it’s left under the "I should’ve waited for that to come out on DVD" category. The next time you go to the movies you might want to see what else is out before shelling out the big bucks to see a movie that is better left for the little screen in your living room.
Reach the reporter at William.Schliesmann@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @wjschliesmann.