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Film / Nightcrawler

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"My motto is if you want to win the lottery, you have to make the money to buy a ticket."
Lou Bloom

Nightcrawler is a 2014 neo-noir crime thriller film written and directed by Dan Gilroy in his directorial debut. It stars Jake Gyllenhaal (who also co-produced the film), Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, and Bill Paxton.

Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, a man desperate for work who starts the film trying to make an honest living in various dishonest ways, including petty theft. He stumbles upon the world of "nightcrawlers" — cameramen that record graphic footage of violent incidents at night to be sold to local TV stations — and establishes himself with an unwitting partner, Rick (Ahmed), to get in on the game. Along the way, as he begins to make a name for himself, he blurs the line between observer and participant, and it becomes clear that he will do anything to make himself the star of his own story.

Gilroy had previously spent several years as a screenwriter prior to making Nightcrawler. He first came up with the idea for the film in 1988, originally planning to make it about the life of American photographer Weegee, who sold sensationalized photos to tabloids in the mid-20th century. He later switched focus after discovering the stringer professionnote , which he considered to be the modern-day equivalent to Weegee, and began work on what eventually became this film due to not being aware of any films that focused on stringers. Gyllenhaal also played a pivotal role in the film's production, from choosing members of the crew to watching audition tapes.

Has nothing to do with the X-Men character.

This film provides examples of:

  • Ambition Is Evil:
    • Due to his lack of morals and ethics, when Lou becomes a nightcrawler, it allows him to use any underhanded tactic to stay in the game. This includes tampering with both the scene of a crash and with a crime scene, sabotaging Joe Loder's vehicle, and letting Rick get shot by a criminal.
    • And this seems to be almost a job requirement. The other nightcrawlers we see are competitive with each other and uncaring towards the victims of the tragedies they film.
  • An Aesop: Coming from the director Dan Gilroy: "I think to some degree it's certainly an indictment of local television news, but I'd like to cast a wider net in the sense that all of us really watch these images. I would hope that maybe a viewer would take it further and maybe go, 'why do I watch these images and how many of these images do I want to put into my own spirit?'"
  • Asshole Victim: The murdered family were actually involved in the drug trade themselves, though Nina chooses not to broadcast this information when it comes to light because the story of a bunch of drug pushers getting what was coming to them won't sow fear among the populace.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Lou not only manages to avoid jail time for withholding vital information from the police (and essentially murdering a whole lot of people by deliberately setting them up to die, not to mention his outright murder of Joe Loder), but his Video Production News business seems to be in bloom, taking Loder's plan of using multiple vans to film different sections of LA at the same time.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Lou, when Rick angrily demands a 50:50 cut for the big coup: "If you're saying I can't negotiate, then I guess I'm... [long, long pause]... I'm just gonna have to give it to you."
  • Bait the Dog: Lou's a socially awkward, but nice, kid of recent generations, forced into thievery and petty crime by the horrible economy, something that everyone, from Millennials to Boomers, have felt. He's good with tech, and tries to make an effort to be nice, and social, and is eager to learn, right? Even though his job, and focus of the film, capitalizes on sensationalism and suffering, well, that's just something everyone in this economy's had to swallow, right? Surely, that doesn't include stuff like sexual extortion, evidence rigging, eliminating the competition, and outright murder, right...? He's not someone like Sheldon Cooper or Steve Urkel — he's really Patrick Bateman.
    Dan Gilroy: We decided not to use a voiceover for Lou so the viewer would not understand in the beginning just how far gone he was. It allowed people to become emotionally bonded to him in a way that it's more disturbing, or at least a flavor of disturbing, that the viewer thinks “What am I supposed to think of this guy?” The viewer wouldn’t just think "I’m looking at a poor son-of-a-bitch that’s totally gone".
  • Batman Gambit: Lou withholds footage of the home invasion shooters so that he can report on them in a public setting, where he's ready to film, and manipulates his 911 call to put the police on edge, trusting that a gunfight will break out for him to film.
  • Beeping Computers: Lou's laptop is making beeping sounds when data is shuffled back and forth.
  • Big Bad: Lou Bloom, our Villain Protagonist, spends the whole film manipulating everything so his business succeeds.
  • Boobs-and-Butt Pose: Nina sarcastically tells Frank Kruse that his job includes "getting Deb to turn sideways during the weather forecast."
  • Book Ends: Lou films his first footage at 1st and Western. The shootout he helps orchestrate is just down the street on 3rd and Western.
  • Boring, but Practical: By the end of the movie, Lou switches over to a set of big gray vans for recording footage from his higher-maintenance sports car.
  • Car Chase: Lou manages to film a particularly wild and bloody one that he helped happen.
  • Character Tics: Lou always ties his hair back out of his eyes before he does something larcenous.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Lou mentions early in the film that he used to work in a garage. This explains why he's good behind the wheel and how he was able to sabotage Joe's van.
  • Comically Small Demand: As Louis begins to close in on a guaranteed windfall, he congratulates Rick and asks him to name whatever kind of raise he wants. Rick, not knowing the scale of what they're headed in for, asks for a raise of "100... 75 dollars" up from his prior pay of 30 dollars per film. A little later he discovers Louis is hunting a 50K cash reward, and starts angrily demanding to be given half.
  • The Conscience: Frank Kruse makes it very clear several times that he objects on both legal and moral grounds to Lou's methods and the dishonest way the station spins his work. Unfortunately for him, no one listens.
  • Cool Car: One of the few things we see Lou buy with his newfound income is a very flashy red Challenger, which includes a lot of the gear he needs to locate news sites and helps him get there faster. Rick, however, notes that it's not exactly inconspicuous.
  • Deal with the Devil: Rick, despite being disturbed by Lou's morals, continues to work for him after blackmailing him to getting a 50/50 take. This ultimately seals his fate.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Lou at the start of the movie. His encounter with the car crash provides the calling, and at the end of his quick tour of the newsroom he sits momentarily in the news anchor's chair with a longing look hanging on his face.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: It's not immediately clear whether Lou managed to bed Nina as the scene cuts from the restaurant right into the next day. It's only later that Lou mentions how Nina was a bore in bed that night.
  • Downer Ending: Not only does Lou get away with his crimes, but his nightcrawling business has expanded substantially, with several new assistants to abuse. After getting several innocent people murdered in his Batman Gambit, it's left to the audience's imagination as to what heinous misdeeds Lou will commit next in order to get more footage.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Being a nightcrawler, Lou gets where he needs to go as fast as possible. His partner Rick becomes a nervous wreck, but Lou always remains perfectly calm.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The first two scenes of the film. Lou steals scrap metal, mugs a security guard for a watch, listens to a report on the declining economy while longingly looking at sports cars way out of his range, futilely haggles with a disdainful scrap buyer and then presents a lengthy application for work, which all fully establish Lou's goals, personality and morality.
  • Evil Is Petty: Many of the horrible things Lou does are for the tiniest of reasons.
  • Exact Words: "I will never ask you to do anything I wouldn't do myself."
  • False Reassurance: The last line of the film is Lou assuring his new employees at Video Production News that he would never ask them to do anything that he wouldn't do himself. If only they knew what he's actually willing to do...
  • Faux Affably Evil: Lou is quick to smile and make friendly conversation, but there's no mistaking how off he is. His praise is passive-aggressive, he smiles while taking advantage of others, and his conversational skills come across as parroted phrases from the internet.
  • Give Geeks a Chance: Subverted; when Nina doesn't respond to his advances, Lou settles for extortion.
  • Good Counterpart: Rick is the inverse of Lou. Like Lou, he also lacks any real job skills. However, he trades basic human decency for Lou's drive, ambition and ruthlessness.
  • He Knows Too Much: Lou engineers Rick's death because he can't work with someone who has leverage over him, after Rick blackmails Lou with the knowledge of his criminal obstruction of justice.
  • Hero Antagonist: The two police detectives are just trying to bring bad guys to justice. While they succeed (somewhat) in a Pyrrhic Victory in one scene, they are still misled by Lou's dishonesty and desire to save his own skin.
  • Hollywood Law:
    • The police would most likely have enough probable cause to get a warrant to search Lou's residence, but the film acts as if their hands are tied.
    • Likewise, the FCC would probably raise an objection to Channel 6 broadcasting Lou's gruesome footage uncut.
  • Idiot Ball: The police who go to the diner after Lou calls in his tip about the home invaders being there are firmly clutching this. Lou identifies himself as eyewitness to the home invasion, positively IDs them, and reports they are armed. Despite all this, the police attempt to go in casually and act as if they are just there to get something to eat. In reality, they either would have waited outside for them to leave and then moved in, or they would have gone in and immediately pulled their guns on the pair, arresting and handcuffing them before they had a chance to react.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: Exploited. Lou's job becomes getting the stuff that bleeds and giving it to Nina so that it leads. It's even noted that crime rates in LA are going down, which threatens the bread-and-butter of Channel 6's news operation. So Lou gets more and more sensationalist footage by deliberately engineering it, cutting the brakes on Joe's van to create an auto accident and causing a gunfight between the police and hardened criminals. Notably, the trope is namedropped by Joe Loder when Lou sees him at work for the first time.
  • In Love with Your Carnage: Despite her initial disgust at Lou' romantic overtures, by the end Nina is creepily enraptured by him when she realizes the true extent of his ability to orchestrate violence and death.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Lou apparently wants to establish a formal relationship with Rick and insists on being called "Louis" in spite of Rick repeatedly calling him "Lou." By the same token, Lou calls Rick "Richard," but Rick only refers to himself as "Rick."
    • Lou insists that Video Production News be spoken of using a very specific tagline.
    • Lou also isn't threatening you, he's negotiating.
  • Jerk Ass Has A Point: After proving himself a success, Joe offers Lou the chance to work for him, to which Lou bluntly refuses, much Joe’s anger. Considering that Lou did offer to work for Joe earlier, only to get curtly turned down without a second thought, Lou has every right to decline Joe’s offer, especially when the latter was so transparently interested in him, only after Lou proved himself.
  • Jitter Cam: In-universe, Lou does his best to avert this, repeatedly admonishing Rick to keep his hands steady when filming.
  • Job Title: "Nightcrawling" refers to working as a reporter during the night to get the most sensationalist footage available.
  • Karma Houdini: Lou gets away scot-free with sabotaging Joe Loder's vehicle and withholding evidence from the cops, and neither he nor Nina surrender the car chase/shooting footage to the detectives.
    • Considering his mugging of the security guard is never brought up again, it can be assumed that Lou also murdered him and got away with it, considering he should've been able to give a description of his attacker.
  • Kick the Dog: Lou mugs and possibly kills a security guard in the first scene of the film, establishing him as an Anti-Hero at best. When he orchestrates Joe Loder's fatal crash and films his dying body being pushed into an ambulance, it becomes clear that he's a villain protagonist.
  • Lack of Empathy: Lou, obviously, but Nina also gets into the act. While she's charmed with Lou and is concerned for him, in the end, all she really wants is a dramatic story and ratings.
  • Likes Older Women: Lou. He is very open about it to Nina.
  • Meaningful Name: Lou Bloom "blooms" through the course of the film as he rises to power. He's shown staring at and watering the lavender flowers in his apartment several times.
  • Media Scaremongering:
    • As a nightcrawler, Lou's job is to capture footage that can be used to invoke, and then exploit, this trope.
    • Nina's job is also essentially this, as her final act argument with her co-worker over what was apparently a deadly home invasion actually being a drug robbery makes clear. Her co-worker wants her to air the fact that it wasn't just a random home invasion that could happen to any average Joe, but she denies him, because it's sweeps week.
  • Missing White Woman Syndrome: Discussed by Nina; she knows full well that these types of stories sell best, and Lou is happy to accommodate. In her words, what grabs the audience is "a woman running down the street, screaming, with her throat cut".
  • Motor Mouth: Lou lapses into this with some frequency, rambling off hollow business aphorisms in lieu of actual conversation.
  • Neat Freak: Lou seems to be one; his clothes are perfectly organized and meticulously ironed, his apartment is spotless, and he threatens to fire Rick if he spills gasoline on his new car.
  • Noodle Incident: While renegotiating some of his work conditions, Lou demands that Nina do the things (in bed) that he wants her to do, not like last time! Apparently, Lou is into some weird stuff that Nina was not comfortable with. (see also Sexual Extortion below).
  • No Social Skills: Zigzagged. Lou is clearly faking all of his social interactions. He's prone to go on long monologues parroting aphorisms and cliches he's clearly just read somewhere, often at improper moments. For example, his lengthy job application to the disdainful scrap metal buyer is embarrassingly ill-considered. However, his facade is only a few degrees off, so he's often able to legitimately win people over with his confidence and positive messaging. For example, he charms the on-air news talent at KXLA and manages to hire three optimistic employees for his new business.
  • Nothing Exciting Ever Happens Here: Nina does not want the TV audience to start thinking this.
  • One-Word Title
  • Product Placement:
    • Lou's Dodge Challenger gets more screen time than most of the characters.
    • Apropos of nothing, Rick reads a Bed Bath and Beyond sign and comments, "That's a good store."
    • While Channel 6 is on commercial break during the "Horror House" segment, a Remax advertisement features on one of the monitors behind the characters. Later, the police shoot the "home invader" after a car chase beneath a Remax billboard that occupies nearly a third of the screen.
    • A Bird's Eye vegetables ad is shown on the TV in Lou's apartment, and later on a monitor in the TV station during a commercial break.
    • A couple of lingering shots of Lou's New Balance sneakers pressing into the gas pedal.
  • Rage Against the Reflection: In one sequence, Lou tries to get footage of a plane crash, but is beaten to the punch by Joe Loder and later scolded by Nina for not bringing her anything worth airing. After Lou returns home and sees Loder's footage of the crash on the news, he screams at the top of his lungs at his bathroom mirror before slamming it, shattering it into pieces.
  • Satire: On the news media industry and sensationalist journalism in general
  • Sexual Extortion: Lou proposes this to Nina. She has had a long history of failed contracts; in exchange for exclusively bringing footage to her company and thus securing her job, he asks to have sex with her (despite the fact that she's over twice his age). Lou later complains about her unwillingness to do the things he wants to do in bed, suggesting that his attempt at extortion worked.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Shown Their Work: Much of the methods of capturing footage and the behind the scenes in the news station aren't far off from real-life methods.
    • The chaotic, strenuous nature of capturing usable footage in crime scenes while police and paramedics are doing their jobs. "Better to ask forgiveness than permission" is advice really given to field production students.
    • The way Nina instructs the anchors about them playing up a narrative and making it relevant.
    • While it might be exaggerated in the film, cameramen are in fact encouraged to get footage of corpses whenever they can, should a news station make use of it.
    • The fact that getting the "perfect shot" in the field relies so much on chance. Thus why Lou tampers with crime scenes to get his money shot.
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Lou uses his position as Nina's sole source of "quality" footage to blackmail her into sex, though he insists that she's not actually his boss, she's his customer.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Definitely cynical. See If It Bleeds, It Leads, Karma Houdini, Villain Protagonist.
  • The Sociopath: Although invokednever outright confirmed, it is fairly apparent that Lou is a sociopath. All of his human interactions appear to be faked, with the intention of getting what he wants out of the people around him. He quickly shows that he's perfectly comfortable stealing, cheating and killing to get what he wants, never showing an ounce of remorse. He tells Nina that "a friend is a gift you give to yourself," which is intended as a feel-good aphorism, but is also literally relevant to the way Lou uses people to suit himself. Toward the end of the film, Lou outright states that he hates people and is willing to hurt them for his own gain.
    Lou: What if my problem wasn't that I don't understand people, but that I don't like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you'd have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that's what I'm telling you, as clearly as I can.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance:
    • Upstairs at the "Horror House", a music box is playing a cheerful lullaby while Lou explores the crime scene.
    • Played with throughout the movie on a subtler, meta note. A lot of the music used in the film could be considered hopeful, optimistic and heartfelt, but disturbingly enough, it's used chiefly for scenes where Lou is being a power-grabbing, Manipulative Bastard.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Lou mentions during his "date" with Nina that he's found out everything he can about her online, and watched as much news footage of her as he can find.
  • Stepford Smiler: Lou is always smiling and behaving in a bland and friendly way to hide whatever it is that he's feeling beneath it, if anything. This is most noticeable after the scrap metal buyer curses him out, and Lou's smile doesn't fade a millimeter.
  • Trailers Always Lie:
    • The trailers make it out to be a crime-heavy murder-thriller, filled with car chases. It's not exactly incorrect, but there's really only one car chase in the film, albeit packed with action.
    • Blurbs for the film also opt to withhold Lou's psycho/sociopathy, or state that Lou becomes a muckraking journalist. It's quite the opposite, really.
    • The trailer shows the junk dealer telling Lou he's not hiring, suggesting that Lou tried to find more legitimate work but was rejected by an uncaring society. It's expanded in the actual film, so we see that the junk dealer wouldn't hire Lou because he knew full well he was a thief, so we see that at least some of Lou's failings come from his own immorality.
  • Trail of Blood: Lou is first to arrive at a mansion where a double murder has taken place. With his camera he follows a trail of blood upstairs where he finds a body in the sleeping room.
  • Tricked to Death: Lou tricks his enormously underpaid employee Rick into getting himself killed after he starts asking too many questions about the company's profits for Lou's liking. After a car chase ends with a baddie's SUV being overturned, he tells Rick that the guy is dead — knowing that he's still alive and armed — and instructs him to step up to the vehicle to get a better shot. He later records Rick's dying body, explaining to him that he couldn't allow his company to be threatened by a disgruntled employee.
  • Uncanny Valley: Jake Gyllenhaal invokedlost 20 pounds in order to give Lou a creepy, off-putting vibe and with his already large eyes looking freakishly amphibious, and his face angular and jutting, the whole effect is deeply disturbing. According to Gyllenhaal, his appearance was inspired by the director in conversation comparing Lou to a coyote.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: The film appears to be trying to establish this kind of plotline when it puts unassuming rookie nightcrawler Lou up against the cocky and well-equipped veteran Joe Loder. The conflict is resolved a few scenes later after Lou, who has no interest in playing fair, cuts the brakes on one of Joe's vans.
  • The Unfettered: Lou.
  • Uriah Gambit: When Rick gets too demanding in terms of salary, Lou sets him up to be gunned down by the baddie in the climax.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: Lou tampers with the brakes of Joe Loder's van to make it crash, so he could monopolize the market.
  • Villain Protagonist: Lou is a horrible person, as is established quite quickly, and this is his story.
  • We Can Rule Together: Joe Loder offers to have Lou work with him, telling him that he has a van and equipment ready to go and that the two of them could record and sell more footage. Joe's sales strategy — uploading his footage to an FTP server and letting news channels bid on his footage — is very differnt from Lou's, suggesting that they wouldn't have been able to work well together.
  • Wretched Hive: Played with regarding the film's depiction of Los Angeles; while the film focuses on the darker aspects of the city, Lou mentions at one point that the crime rate has actually gone down. Interestingly enough, this makes his services as a nightcrawler all the more valuable to struggling news broadcasters.