Review: 'Nightcrawler'

The case of “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” successfully argued that corporations have the same rights as people, and are therefore to be considered as such. The purpose of a corporation is to make a profit for its shareholders by any and all legal means, exploiting its resources as fully as possible.

One hopes and assumes that large corporations will breed a fair and estimable culture to maintain a good work environment, ensuring a balance against a pure profit motive. But anyone who isn't a child will tell you this is absolute horsesh*t.

Merriam-Webster defines a sociopath as, “someone who behaves in a dangerous or violent way towards other people and does not feel guilty about such behavior.” The corporate drive for profit slouches toward the sociopathic by design – and “Citizens United” now says that corporations are people.

“Nightcrawler,” a fantastic, sleek and (despite all this Econ 101) fun satire shows us what the physical embodiment of uncontrolled capitalism would look like. It would look like an underfed, raccoon-faced Jake Gyllenhaal zooming around Los Angeles in the middle of the night.

When we first meet Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom he's a low-grade hustler, stealing and selling scrap metal. But when he opens his mouth, out pours enormous blocks of regurgitated sales-speak. Every moment of his life is a transaction, and even when the bartering doesn't break his way he leaves with some accumulated capital: experience and knowledge. Also, he's extremely polite. It's weird.

Then one night he witnesses a horrifying car crash. Along with the first responders come some “nightcrawlers” - sleazy cameramen shooting video of the blood and shattered glass. Bill Paxton swings his camera over his shoulder and races back to his van with blue collar swagger. It's just a night on the job, despite the writhing bodies. Lou Bloom is hooked.

It isn't that Bloom has a bloodlust or even a thirst for adventure, he just sees an opening. In an economy where the only positions available to him are unpaid internships, “nightcrawling” is a paycheck today – once he gets a police scanner and a camera. He sells his first bloody video to Rene Russo, the news director on “the vampire shift” and the lowest rated local network. Bloom's work ethic ensures that his tapes are the best and the two soon form a partnership. But as soon as Bloom realizes he's got the upper hand, he squeezes it. He also hires Riz Ahmed as his intern – he needs someone to park his car and to listen to his increasingly histrionic rants about economic theory.

The bulk of “Nightcrawler” is spent trawling Los Angeles after dark in search of suffering. Well, a certain kind of suffering. A car jacking in a black neighborhood is worthless, but a dead white person in a mansion is the Holy Grail. Watching Bloom acquire the footage shows just how invasive and unethical these shooters are, but what's so striking is how the finished TV packages look so normal. We've all been ingesting this stuff for years, but not 'til this movie did I ever wonder how these images came to me.

Director Dan Gilroy (screenwriter of “The Bourne Ultimatum”) maintains a nice balance between black humor, drama and even a little bit of action. L.A. at night always photographs well, and while this movie doesn't redefine the look, it doesn't skimp on style. There are one or two transition shots that feel canned, but it's only noticeable because the rest of the movie hums so well. (Mental comparisons to something like “Taxi Driver” are inevitable, but the Second Unit stuff here does not measure up.)

The best thing in “Nightcrawler,” however, is Jake Gyllenhaal himself. Lou Bloom, by some form of black magic, is likable, even though he is 100% devoid of morals and not even a real person. Nothing out of his mouth is genuine – he's like Al Pacino's character in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” but instead of obfuscating with verbal smoke and mirrors he's disarmingly direct.

Maybe Lou Bloom is so broken that he actually believes what he's saying? We'll never know. But we'll watch because we know it is building to something explosive, and we can not turn away.