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Directed by Dan Gilroy

USA, 2014

Cornerhouse, 31 October 2014

Everything you’d ever want from a contemporary crime film; neo-noir so nasty it gets under your skin.

One night Lou Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, whose performance is as grotesque as realism allows: Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe would be a good reference point), a high-functioning sociopath, comes across a car wreck.  While the medics are attending to the injured, a cameraman – a modern day Weegee, though this is Los Angeles not New York – is filming the scene, footage that he will later sell to the TV news.  It’s an event that serves as an epiphany for Lou: here is rewarding work where his lack of empathy with people, indeed his positive dislike of them, not to mention his amorality, is a big plus.

At first, Lou is content simply to observe and record accident victims, scenes of violent crime.  Then he decides to take a more active role.  He is an artist, naturally he needs to innovate…  If you watch the film waiting for Lou to slip up, you’ll be disappointed – and that tells you something about what it’s about.

Yes, it is a critique of the media’s penchant for sensationalism and violence in the spirit of films like Network.  What’s as pertinent, however, is that it charts the point where the middle class fear of crime and accident (which is the market Lou feeds) segues into the fear of being unable to get by in a flat-lining economy where businesses are closing, investments are losing their value and underemployment (if not unemployment) is rife.  And even if you’re in employment, the stress of continually needing to hit targets (as Lou’s boss, played by Rene Russo, finds) is energy-sapping.

The key term is ‘precariousness’; we all of us live in a precarious world, or ‘a runaway world’ as Ulrich Beck would have it.  You can become a victim of the economy just as easily as a victim of crime.

But not Lou, he succeeds and prospers.  The Fates don’t rule his world.

Nightcrawler is a brilliant film, brimming with excellent performances from the likes of Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed and Bill Paxton, as well as Gyllenhaal.  As noir, it somehow put me in mind of Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.