Tragedy falls around us like rain, spattering the windows and drumming on our roofs. A shooting downtown. A crash on the freeway. An assault in a nearby suburb. We see the news flash across our television screens or hear about it on the radio or as it gets pushed onto Facebook feeds, forever swirling around us as we eat our breakfast and iron our shirts and make our way through the world. Mostly we stay dry amid this steady drip of misery, safe in our homes and cars. Until one day, perhaps, our own roof starts to leak.
Loping, cadaverous Louis Bloom follows the rain. He's a videographer of tragedy—a freelance cameraman with an eye for the dramatic and a taste for blood. Night after night, he and his reluctant assistant, Rick, prowl the streets of Los Angeles, trolling the police scanner for the latest house explosion or car crash or double homicide. He records the worst—sometimes last—moments of someone's life and then sells the footage to a local television station, who'll then serve it up to the city's thirsty masses.
He wasn't always a nightcrawler, as such freelance cameramen are called. He was once a scavenger—a city jackal who'd take bits of metal and rolls of fence and sell them for scrap. He'd steal the stuff, kill for it. He wasn't picky. L.A.'s underbelly was as comforting and familiar to him as an afternoon downpour.
And then one dark night while driving from his latest sale, he happens upon a burning car, a screaming woman, two officers struggling to free her … and a cameraman recording the whole thing.
The next morning, he sees the drama play out on local news—a drop of must-watch tragedy for the city to swallow. In that moment, Louis switches career tracks. He steals a bike to buy a scanner and a rudimentary camcorder, diving headlong into the murky streets. He films a man dying and shows it to a struggling local station that's looking for footage graphic enough to goose ratings. Nina, the station's graveyard news director, smiles.
It's Louis' first news sale, but it won't be the last. For a guy like him, there's no place better than the storm of a city. He lives for the rain.
And, if need be, he can make it rain all by himself.
"I am told I'm persistent," Louis says, and for all his myriad flaws and faults, it's true. Lacking a formal education, for instance, Louis taught himself online. He's also a stickler for fastened seat belts—definitely a positive here, given the guy's driving.
Louis blackmails Nina into a more-than-just-working relationship with him. Be with me, he insinuates, and you'll continue to receive my work—which keeps her employment intact. He wants her, he says, "like you want to keep your job and your health insurance."
When Nina watches some particularly grotesque footage, she coos and groans over it, in nearly sexual tones. There's talk of homosexual prostitution.
We get an eyeful of salacious and graphic news footage, much of it shot by Louis and some of it openly celebrated by cameramen after they capture it. We see flaming houses, explosions, fiery cars, and dead and injured people. At an accident scene, Louis drags a bloody, lifeless body across the asphalt to get a better composed shot. Images of a triple murder include blood-covered bodies; one man is still gasping for his last breaths. (Louis does nothing but videotape the man.) As mentioned, Louis' first recording is of a man who was gunned down. (Paramedics frantically try to staunch the blood coming out of his neck.) Police and suspects exchange deadly gunfire in view of Louis' lens. Louis and Rick participate in a crazy car chase that leads to several totaled vehicles.
In a rage, Louis smashes his bathroom mirror. It's suggested that he kills a security guard. And he manipulates things so a person who crosses him gets gunned down. Then he records the man as he bleeds out, painstakingly and dispassionately explaining his reasons for the lethal betrayal. Engaged in a battle of supremacy with another nightcrawler, Louis sabotages the rival's van. Later, he and Rick come across the crashed vehicle.
"Don't shoot that, Louis," Rick says. "He's one of us."
"Not anymore," Louis says. "He's a sale." And he looks coldly down at his injured competitor, camera running. The injured man, in a neck brace and his mouth filled with blood, looks at Louis with something akin to terror.
Crude or Profane Language
Close to 50 f-words and 20 s-words. We also hear "a--," "b--ch" and "h---." God's name is misused, four or five times with "d--n"; Jesus' name is abused that same number of times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Louis and Nina sip margaritas, and Nina sprinkles some kind of powder into hers. A litany of drugs are mentioned in connection with a gory murder case.
Other Negative Elements
Louis thrives as a nightcrawler in part because has no conscience. None. He manipulates people and places to fulfill his own personal wants and needs. He crosses police lines, moves evidence around like props and withholds important information from the cops to propel a dangerous "story" forward to a bloody conclusion. He lies, steals, cheats and breaks into houses. He drives incredibly recklessly and gives no thought to putting others in danger.
But even when people question his methods, no one stops him. Why? In Nina's case, it's because of the value of Louis' sensational footage. When a co-worker says some of it goes beyond "all broadcast standards," she shoos him away. She asks the station lawyer whether they can legally show dead bodies before the police notify next of kin—even as everyone else acknowledges that morally it's the wrong move. And when police demand Louis' footage, Nina tries to obstruct their efforts. She defends Louis even as she's being blackmailed by him, now too dependent on his salacious work.
Coverage is driven by affluence and race, too. (It's not news if someone's killed in the inner city, only in the well-to-do suburbs.) And when a particularly crazy "home invasion" is found out to be instead a conflict over illegal drugs, Nina fights to hold that revelation until noontime—allowing the alarmist home-invasion story a few more hours of ratings gold.
Rick, for his part, doesn't blink at Louis' actions through most of the movie. And when he realizes that they're breaking laws and putting innocent people in jeopardy, he still succumbs to Louis' promises and threats. A scrap dealer knowingly pays for Louis' stolen "goods." A pawn shop dealer does much the same thing.
Nightcrawler is predicated on the idea of what might happen if a psychopath got a job in the tawdry, sensationalist world of crime television journalism? It is, perhaps, not a completely farfetched notion.
Wallace Souza was host of the hit Brazilian reality show Canal Livre until 2009. For 20 years, he and the show followed tawdry crime stories and spoon-fed shocking video to the country. The program proved to be so popular that Souza was elected to the Legislative Assembly of Amazonas three times. But all that success came to an end when he was accused of hiring hit men to commit some of the crimes he covered. (Souza denied everything and then died of a heart attack before he could go to trial.)
No sane human would condone Souza's alleged actions. And moviegoers aren't meant to excuse Louis' either. Nightcrawler gives us a vile protagonist aided and abetted by a television ethos driven almost completely by ratings. To drive home the point, a nightcrawler repeats the longtime adage of journalism: "If it bleeds, it leads."
More than anything, the film is a scathing critique of journalistic priorities and the unhealthy cravings of the masses they serve. It suggests that bloody crime footage doesn't inform as much as it shocks and entertains. It says that to spool this stuff out is inappropriate and detrimental.
Which is an interesting argument for a movie like this to posit, given its preoccupation with its own salacious and bloody scenes.
Granted, the images we see in Nightcrawler are fictional constructs—not the real blood and pain of people finally caught in the rain. Still, it's an interesting and important question: When you narratively embrace the very same content that you want to condemn, what's the final result in the minds of your audience?
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jake Gyllenhaal as Louis Bloom; Rene Russo as Nina; Riz Ahmed as Rick; Bill Paxton as Joe Loder; Kevin Rahm as Frank Kruse
Dan Gilroy ( )
Open Road Films
October 31, 2014
February 10, 2015