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Small Square Table Discussion: ‘Nightcrawler’

by on December 8, 2014

“Small Square Table” is an ongoing series in which Bryan Faux and Taylor Gaines discuss the latest movies to hit the local multiplex. It’s more fun when they disagree. Today, “Nightcrawler”.

Taylor: 

You liked this one significantly more than I, Bryan. I know we’re both journalism majors, so maybe this is an unfair way to preface this, but…as a journalism major, the amount of cynicism toward the media in this movie really bothered me.

Now, maybe it’s my fault for seeing “Gone Girl”, “Nightcrawler” and “Birdman” back-to-back-to-back, but all the cynicism in this fall’s slate is starting to weigh on me. These three, in particular, are incredibly cynical about the media.

What bothered me in “Nightcrawler” was the way that media prioritized viewers ahead of content and (most troublingly) truth. Admittedly, this movie took place a couple degrees away from the Earth we know and love (just look at some of the gore they were allowed to show on television). But when the news producer began reaching for stories that were completely unethical to run because they showed dead and dying people on camera, I began to get a little bothered. But I could have lived with that.

What set me off was near the end when they decided to run a story that had been found to be almost completely false in the way they reported it. She said something along the lines of “No, we want the story that will scare people more” and just ran with it. A news organization would simply not do this. Misreporting something at the same time that other outlets are reporting new information is not something that will help boost ratings. It will help kill your career, maybe.

Even in the news producer’s twisted reality construct, this was actually the worst possible move for herThis is where I drew the line.

Bryan:

I did have a great time at this movie.  Interestingly, a lot of the movies we’ve gotten at this point in the fall season feel like experiences rather than complete movies (“Gone Girl,” “Interstellar”).

This is the case with “Nightcrawler.”  It’s more about atmosphere than it is plot. We only get one great character through Gyllenhaal’s hypnotic performance.  The movie essentially rests on his shoulders and he really delivers.

I have been championing him for a while after several really good performances in interesting movies (“Zodiac,” “Source Code,” “Prisoners”).  He is a criminally underrated actor.

As for the cynicism of the media in the movie, it didn’t phase me.  This is an example of how exaggeration works well in satire. Obviously, this movie exaggerates the unethical practices of TV news outlets, but in reality, there are news outlets that do this kind of stuff.  That’s why I was unaffected by it.  The film is an indictment of this type of reporting, satirizing news outlets that aren’t respectable anyway.  The audience should squirm at it because that is the intention.  I’m generally a cynical person so this kind of movie works for me, but I find it really interesting that it colored your opinion of the movie so much. I thought it was a blast and a hell of a debut feature for writer/director Dan Gilroy.

Taylor: 

Like I mentioned, it’s almost the compilation of cynicism that bothered me more than the cynicism in this movie itself. I’ve seen it in so many movies this fall that it’s starting to beleaguer the movie-going experience for me.

Sure, some movies portray their cynicism more cleverly than others. “Gone Girl” kind of lightly pokes at the media and makes a fairly accurate reflection upon the reactionary media we have today that loves to paint people as a certain thing immediately. Meanwhile, “Birdman” gave us a rudimentary shade of a character that exhibited a fundamental misunderstanding of why critics do what they do while grossly overestimating the power that they have.

“Nightcrawler” bothered me because characters were literally putting the entire operation in a worse position with some of their decisions. Part of the reason I admired Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” is because of the way it looked at a broken world and found reason for hope. I’m not saying it’s bad to be cynical, but I’d prefer that more than one out of every four movies I see has a little hope.

Bryan:

I hadn’t really thought of the all the cynicism as a recent cinema trend, but I can totally see your point. It is definitely enjoyable to have movies sneak in and be fun and optimistic, but that can be overbearing in large doses because that isn’t really how the world is.

I’ll admit that “Nightcrawler” has little going for it apart from style and Jake Gyllenhaal. But I still found it compelling and thrilling. I wanted to know where it was going. Most of the things I expected to happen did, but there was something so unsettling about Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom that I felt like it could have gone anywhere.

The portrayal of the media in this movie shows how the media is essentially creating a form of reality television. The news channel in this film takes basic information, twists it into a more dramatic narrative and viewers buy it.  People love to see drama unfold on camera; it’s sort of irrelevant whether or not it’s real as long as they believe it is.

I think that is such a timely undercurrent to this movie. Reality TV has become ludicrous but seems more popular than ever despite not being “reality” at all.

I enjoy when movies work in the entertainment factor while still being topical.  It’s a tricky balance and often movies become really heavy-handed because of it, but I felt like this movie worked really well as both entertainment and an indictment of horrible, unethical journalism.

Taylor: 

I was definitely into this movie. It just left a real bad taste in my mouth.

I disagree that the showing of dead bodies was a stretch in this film, though. From the first news report in the film, I was under the impression that we weren’t really in reality, rather some kind of twisted, altered portrayal of it. Obviously, in our world news stations would not be allowed to show dead or dying people on television. But in the future, Gilroy might say, if the media continues to sensationalize and pander to ratings, they will eventually reach a point where showing bodies on the news is the norm. A point where independent “freelancers” spend their time illegally intruding on active crime scenes to get raw video for that day’s big story. And I don’t know that I’d disagree with him.

Lastly, I want to comment on Gyllenhaall. As you mentioned, he has been doing some fascinating work in the past few years. I look forward to the day where a script helps elevate him, though, rather than the other way around.

Speaking of Gyllenhaall, check out this picture. Then, remind yourself of this one. That’s some serious commitment, no?

Bryan: 

I agree. While Gyllenhaal has turned in some terrific performances recently, he hasn’t made a film where the movie around him is on the same level.

It is also odd to me that he hasn’t become a bigger star, given his talent. People may know his name, but they don’t seem to know he can act. Maybe this is because he chooses movies that aren’t necessarily mainstream. But he is certainly finding interesting projects that give him the opportunity to really stretch himself.  His recent movies have been critically acclaimed, sure, but they’re definitely not big blockbusters.

His is the type of career that I really enjoy following because it can go anywhere.  This guy has proven himself time and again, and I’m ready to see his career continue to rise.

As for “Nightcrawler,” I think it is a solid film but not as much of an awards contender this year as people have speculated.  And it is not impossible that Gyllenhaal will get an Oscar nod, just unlikely given the heavy competition in the leading actor category this year.

It is only a matter of time, though, before we see a Gyllenhaal performance featured heavily in the awards race. Personally, I can’t wait to see what it is.

What does everybody else think?

Taylor Gaines can be contacted on Twitter @GainesTaylor, and Bryan Faux can be reached @fauxbj_88.

 

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