Where’s the hook, Nightcrawler?
Invasion of the Privacy Snatchers
R for violence including graphic images, and for language
There are some interesting ideas floating around in this purported thriller/satire. Floating, but still looking for a place to land.
The story revolves around Lou Bloom, expertly played by a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal (Zodiac). His sleep-deprived eyes and slim frame (Gyllenhaal reportedly dropped 20 pounds for the role) call to mind the great lengths Christian Bale went to for his role as Trevor Reznik in The Machinist.
Does Lou have some sort of mysterious back story? Well, no. He’s a loser and a loner. But he’s also a rather unlikely conduit for the movie’s spin on the Internet, modern news gathering, and privacy rights.
Lou has no appreciation for property rights, or the privacy that goes with them. He raids construction sites and sells stolen materials in order to keep food on the table. And he spouts off trite bits of corporate-speak while trying to make his business practices sound legitimate. He can be oh so very aggressive, the kind of aggressive borne of desperation that is in turn also baseless for those on the receiving end. In other words, there are times when Lou deserves a big ol’ smack across the head.
As the story unfolds, Lou stumbles on a car accident and spots a videographer swooping in to record the bloody aftermath. Lou immediately jumps on the financial aspects of the pursuit and asks the video man (a severely underused Bill Paxton, Edge of Tomorrow) how much he gets paid.
All that leads Lou to sell his bicycle (or somebody’s bicycle) in exchange for a video camera and a police radio. Off he goes to steal people’s privacy as they suffer through accidents or worse, including a murderous home invasion.
Lou’s encyclopedic knowledge, at times delivered in conversation like some sort of bizarre genetic cocktail mixing Forrest Gump with Travis Bickle, is based on his Internet research and online classes. Truly, he’s the poster child for the dangers of online education; he’s smart enough to be dangerous.
Given all those components of Lou’s oddball character, the movie goes on to skewer the news media. But, like Gone Girl, that facet is not particularly effective. It doesn’t elevate the material to a big-screen level and that’s all the more disappointing given this movie’s pedigree and Gyllenhaal’s all-in performance.
It’s a real family affair with writer/director Dan Gilroy (Real Steel) bringing family along for the ride. There’s editor brother John Gilroy (Pacific Rim) and producer brother Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) along with actress wife Rene Russo (Big Trouble) as a TV news producer. But what they fail to do is give this Nightcrawler a hook; in news-speak and movie-speak, that’s a reason to care, the element that reels in the reader or viewer.
This Nightcrawler (a term for those wormy characters who prowl the streets looking for the blood of others to suck on) has the makings for a great movie, but during all that street prowling and unlikely storytelling masquerading as satire, it doesn’t find its own story.