It didn’t take much of my first semester in college as a journalism major to realize why it’s so necessary to have entire courses dedicated to teaching journalists not to be jerks.
It makes all the sense in the world that Journalism Ethics classes exist while courses dedicated to the ethics of crafts like painting, acting, and creative writing don’t exist. The incentives are wonky in journalism, putting reporters in an environment in which what’s going to make them the most money in the fastest amount of time is often against the public’s best interest. It’s much more efficient and economically-solvent to simply use interview subjects and events for selfish goals. Almost any injection of morality leads to less financial profit and more amounts of work. Nightcrawler, an Oscar-nominated film directed and written by Dan Gilroy, represents this in a fully accurate manner, delivering a thrilling tale anchored around its main character Lou Bloom who embodies the most ruthless and efficient kind of journalist.
From the outset it’s clear that Bloom is a shifty individual determined to be the best damn capitalist he can be despite his well-deserved status as an outcast. One night, he stumbles into a career of filming disaster footage of privileged people who fall victim to crime and serious accidents to sell to a desperate and money-grubbing local news station. Moving at a solid pace, the film catalogues Bloom’s rise from a roaming scrap-metal salesman to a powerful freelance provider of video footage who gets whatever he wants, which extends beyond the realm of cash.
Bloom is a fascinating character made absolutely riveting thanks to Jake Gyllenhaal’s stellar performance. He is an utter bastard with no actual regard for anyone but himself. He does show positively charming affection towards multiple other people throughout the movie, from the very first scene to the very last scene, but it’s all fake, all an uncaring means to a self-serving end. Bloom scours the internet to do research of an academic level, giving the character an elusive and mysterious aura. He keeps everything secret that he needs to be secret, and only lets anyone peek behind the curtain when it suits him: a look behind that curtains tends to frighten and intimidate people, which are things he can use.
Watching all of Gyllenhaal’s nuanced facial expressions and body language proves constantly intriguing. Every fake smile and fit of analysis is acted out with the utmost control. Bloom almost always has things under control, all according to a given plan. Occasionally, things veer a bit away from what he’d like, but it’s clear these detours aren’t a complete surprise to him. Even rarer are the few times his plans completely tank, which prove to be the movie’s most horrific moments. This guy is almost perfect when it comes to getting done what he wants to be done, and he knows that and seems to take a ton of pride in that; whenever anything happens that goes against his self-image, he explodes.
To call Bloom’s actions as a journalist unethical is an understatement, from tampering with crime scenes solely to get a better shot to directly causing disastrous events just so he can film them. The environment he finds himself in is similarly vicious, first evident whenever a woman behind the scenes blatantly explains to Bloom that footage of white victims of minority criminals should be pursued because it brings in more viewers. It’s all believable, too, bringing the thrill to a whole new level. Bloom’s life gets progressively more luxurious as he keeps up with his unethical reporting practices, solidifying his motivations. The people he works for are characterized nicely as struggling local news providers, willing to sacrifice thoughts of ethics in order to get by.
Much the film takes place at night, and it all looks great. The darkly-tinted colors of the night pop before they fade away. The movie moves at a break-neck speed at many points with a camera that keeps up with a constantly well-framed view of the action. Bloom’s adventures take him on high-speed car rides and frantic on-field filming, all of which constantly exciting. Every major performance in this film gets the job done brilliantly, from the woman who finds herself as somewhat as a love interest to Bloom’s loud-mouthed competitor.
Nightcrawler is a big success, always managing to be thought-provoking and thrilling. While the movie always makes it clear that the main character isn’t on the right side of morality, he does indeed win in the end. Unlike many madmen in fiction, Bloom is smarter than everyone he has to deal with.
Lou Bloom is the reason why journalists like myself have to complete courses on ethics in journalism.
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