By Jake Howell

The Torontonian Reviews NIGHTCRAWLER

d5af7aba5d2a53a20c3e5aeca8e25192Currently my favourite film at TIFF, Nightcrawler is so refreshingly original that it’s surprising to see it’s also screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut. But it is, and that’s fantastic, because the film goes places and takes risks I wish were more common in North American cinema. The result is a memorable, even great first feature.

Finding himself in what feels like an especially twisted episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a sallow, greasy-haired sociopath who can’t find a job—or an unpaid internship, a frustration mined here for laughs—no matter how many employers he harangues with self-help psychobabble. Giving up on the idea of working for someone else and witnessing a brutal accident on the freeway, Lou is inspired to “nightcrawl,” which means combing the streets of Los Angeles for footage of crime scenes to sell to local news channels. It’s the type of work that another cameraman describes as a “flaming asshole of a job,” because who wants to shove a camera in the face of someone bleeding out in a crashed car?

Lou Bloom does! Or at least he doesn’t give a shit. That’s good news for us, because it’s morbidly riveting to see him snake inside active crime scenes to get footage of mangled bodies that the morning news is dying to showcase, paying top dollar for images of white-collar corpses. A character to remember, Lou is as enterprising as Howard Roark, as intense as Timothy Ferriss, and as batty as Cosmo Kramer. As he improves his craft and grows his business—Lou self-identifies as a “quick learner”—he takes on Rick (Riz Ahmed), an illiterate and homeless twentysomething who wants to get paid any way he can. Rick assists in the navigation and parks their car when they get to a crime scene, and seeing Lou in an employer capacity is wonderfully fucked-up.

Gilroy’s wife Rene Russo plays Linda, Lou’s cougar contact at the television station, and when she outlines what kind of footage she’s looking to purchase she reminds Lou that the newscast needs to resemble “a woman running down the street screaming her head off.” That means in terms of cable news, instilling fear in the viewers at home is paramount, and the critique of institutional racism and the maxim “if it bleeds, it leads” here is a bigger indictment on Los Angeles than David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, and Dan Gilroy has written something even more depraved than Bruce Wagner’s script for that movie. Nightcrawler is tastelessly sick in the best way possible, and Gyllenhaal is hilarious as a slimy creep with sunken eyes. (“I like to say that if you ever see me, you’re having the worst day of your life.”) There’s something to be said about the effectiveness of this movie’s tone: we don’t see very much action (the violence is mostly shown via its aftermath) and we don’t see any sex at all. But those cinematic pleasures are still found in Nightcrawler’s are-they-actually-going-there narrative and intense sexual tension, compliments of Gilroy’s excellent witty, cynical script.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon