I used to know this guy who reminded me a lot of Louise Bloom, the titular nocturnal creep played by Jake Gyllenhaal, not because he was advantageous nor starved for social status, but because he had a way of appearing out of nowhere like a ghost with freshly rehearsed subjects on deck to readily sow into the conversation that he spent the previous five minutes pretending to participate in. He lingered around for a few years while things slowly went from awkward to borderline frightening. I think it’s important to empathize and consider another’s past before breaking ties, but there came a time in which it was evident that it wasn’t healthy for anyone involved to continue speaking. To this date I can’t think of another human that I’ve cut off so abruptly and permanently. Like Bloom, he was very well articulated and spoke with rapid-fire urgency as though the words were causing him some physical discomfort while gestating within. This would indicate anxiety, at least to me, but also a need to connect in hopes to validate himself as a knowledgeable and interesting person, which he was. It makes sense considering that he and Bloom would consider their expression a social strongpoint, often oblivious to how suffocating and overwhelming it can be to be the recipient of that wave of verbiage. Above all things he was lonely and in need of social vindication, to the point where it would appear that it became an addiction, much like Bloom’s insatiable lust for standing.
Dan Gilroy’s “Nightcrawler” is an impressive debut as far as I’m concerned. It’s both a character study and an indictment of our current media dilemma, Bloom playing the dichotomous role of the victim and benefactor of our patronage. We first meet him as he’s clipping chain linked fence to sell for scrap. A security guard rolls up on him and we get our first glimpse of his social operation (smile, talk fast, win), which ends appropriately with an act of violence that we don’t get to witness. --- I was wondering about what their tussle resulted in on my way to work today. The guard got a really solid look at him, I’m just saying. ---- He’s a thief, but he’s yearning for an honest living worthy of his effort. He’s willing to work hard wherever he ends up , and he’ll adapt easily and climb fairly quickly if he’s given the chance. The internet is his teacher. His drive carries out the rest. He isn’t looking to make an easy buck; he’s just another down-on-his-luck kid trying to work in our progressively dreary economic landscape. He finds his niche while stumbling upon a camera crew hovering around a car crash like the first vultures to a carcass. The carcass is then sold to the highest bidder on the news circuit, making our suffering a ghoulish commerce, pieces of metal at a scrap yard. After getting a foot in the door at a failing local station, Bloom begins to take his vocation to new depths only earning him more clout in the industry. The corporatized media trade preys upon our fear, lust for destruction, prying, and disengagement with pragmatic reporting. Turn on the news for thirty minutes and behold the horror.
“Nightcrawler” is strongest when working as a procedural, taking us through the mechanizations of a mostly clandestine job. We don’t know much about the procuring of footage, the price that footage goes for, and the way a producer works it into a narrative that has been tinkered to draw in an audience. There have been many great films about the news industry (Ace in the Hole, His Girl Friday, While the City Sleeps, All the President’s Men, Zodiac) but none about the men and women who sit by police scanners waiting gleefully for terrible things to happen. The scenes that I found the most engaging took place within the station headquarters where Rene Russo’s Nina Romina bids for footage and then cuts it and finds a narrative to hang it on, or in Bloom’s apartment or car where he studies police code and the fastest way from point A to B. There is a blunt but effective scene where Nina puppeteers some recently acquired footage, speaking directly into the ears of the anchors, repeatedly emphasizing phrases meant to both scare and incite the audience. Her approach is to emphasize affluent citizens’ safety encroached upon by a creeping marginalized threat. Sound familiar? It’s a fair target; I just wish Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut had sharper teeth. Where the movie fails is in its need to a: spell out the moral dilemma (there is a character planted in this movie for the sole purpose of telling us that certain footage is unethical, never so obviously than a scene in which he reveals information about the aforementioned footage) b: adhere to obligatory “lonely crazy guy” movie prototypes (the lame mirror sequence for instance) and c: the abrupt development of a narrative thread that shapes the remnants of the film in such a way that a big suspension of disbelief will be required to follow it through. This late chain of events succumbs to the same sensationalism that it seeks to indict. It nearly derails the whole damn thing.
Current Cinema Blurbs: “Land-ho!” confirms Paul Eenhorn as the wisest, most pleasant actor currently gracing our big and little screens. Tara noted that he had “a nice face.” He caught my attention first with 2013’s “This is Martin Bonner” and matches Earl Lynn Nelson’s gargantuan performance step for step. These two should make a set of Crosby/Hope road movies for our viewing pleasure. It also confirms my friend John’s suspicions that Aaron Katz is the real deal, not that we should disregard Martha Stephens’ contributions. This is easily one of 2014’s best, ignore anyone who damns it by claiming that it’s “slight” or tidy They are wrong. Doug Liman’s “Edge of Tomorrow” only falters in its final stretch, which is a bummer considering how fresh the first two thirds are. The death montages had me laughing out loud, especially when the main character rolls under a Jeep much to Bill Paxton’s baffled dismay (Paxton also whips out a refreshing performance in Nightcrawler). Cruise is top notch here, as is Emily Blunt, and the action scenes work precisely because of their willingness to embrace the absurdity of the film’s central concept. It’s an easy honorable mention. You should see it, I should see it again. HBO’s “Olive Kittredge” makes great use of its Maine setting both inside and out. It also surprised me in its reluctance to indulge in worn out archetypes and plot developments. You think you know where it’s going to go, how people are going to act, and how you are supposed to feel about them only wait and wait and wait for something to happen that would have happened in something else. Does that make any sense? It only falters a bit in its final chapters, a little here and a little there. If it was a theatrical feature it’d be one of the standouts this year. Then again, J. Hoberman put Todd Haynes’ “Mildred Pierce” on his list when that came out.
Masterpieces: 1943 Edge of Darkness (Lewis Milestone)
Yes Please: 1935 Mad Love (Karl Freund), The Plough and the Stars (John Ford), The Ghost Goes West (Rene Clair), The Devil Doll (Todd Browning), Dracula’s Daughter (Lambert Hillyer), The Limey (Steven Soderbergh), A Lawless Street (Joseph H. Lewis), Jack Reacher (Christopher McQuarrie), Rosetta (The Dardenne bros), The Stalking Moon (Robert Mulligan).