Thursday, July 16, 2015

Why Nightcrawler Was the Best Film of Last Year And We All Missed It

Perhaps one of the best marketing strategies for this film was to sell it like something out of time, something surreal, keeping in touch with its Neo Noir roots. 
Except for a few 10 Best of the Year critic's lists, and some outcry here and there that Jake Gyllenhaal was robbed of an Oscar nomination, this film barely made returns upon release and flew quietly under our radar until it reappeared last month on Netflix instant. It's been in the 'Trending Now' category holding firm ever since, and everyone is kicking themselves for not seeing it earlier.
This was truly a sleeper hit. I can only imagine that dreaded pitch in any executive producer's officer in Hollywood. 'Hey, so yeah, it's a neo-noir...I'll explain later what that is, anyway film about a sociopath who undertakes a career in crime news as a stringer who eventually kills everyone who stands in his way of achieving his dream of exploiting the absolute worst in all of us. It's an indictment...I'll explain that later too of the news industry, and a satire, yes I'll explain later, on our vicious need for sensational news. Who do I see in the lead role you ask? Well I'm really hoping Ryan Gosling will return my phone calls. How long have I been waiting by the phone? About a year'. 
Lucky for us, appropriately named Bold Films, finances the project, and the man who eventually returned the phone calls was none other than the extremely versatile Jake Gyllenhaal who's acted in everything from niche cult classics like Donnie Darko, to Oscar caliber films like Brokeback Mountain, to just absolute shit like The Prince of Persia

The way that particularly Gyllenhaal is photographed gives such a window into the thematics of his character. Against the bleak darkness of an unforgiving world, he illuminates the worst part of what we can't see amongst it. (Ooooh that was poetic)
We know the man has chops, also we know he's experimental and fearless. He might be a pretty boy, but god damn, if his performance in Brokeback didn't make you well up, then check yourself for a pulse. Sorry Ryan Gosling. Once he was on board, it was an easy break. Filmed on location in LA, where permits and state tax laws make it almost impossible to afford shooting there, somehow they pulled it off. The setting was such where it had to be the third main character, and that's exactly what they achieved. The opening montage of LA landmarks in the middle of the night was wordless visual poetry. First time filmmaker Dan Gilroy wrote such a flawless script, I can't understand why he had trouble selling it, wait yes I can. It's seedy, it's dark, and it's an indictment of LA culture in particular, the likes of which we haven't seen since Sunset Blvd.
When it finally landed on Netflix, that's when we all took notice. but it was too late. Open Road had run such a piss poor Oscar campaign, that the film barely garnered a nod for Best Screenplay. And of course, everyone finally understood that outrage we read about that Jake himself lost out an Oscar nom to Bradley Cooper; in the film community Cooper was vilified of not only costing Jake the nomination, but also costing David Olyelowo the nod for Selma, the latter of which perhaps being more of an outrageous happening. 

In one of the more grizzly parts of the film Lou Bloom beats the police to an active home invasion and what he does next is completely shocking and yet portrayed with an unapologetic spirit.
People don't like dark films, people in Hollywood that finance most films definitely don't like dark films that point a mirror at their own culture and show them the ugliness of their own black souls. But we forget the main points. When Sunset Blvd. (perhaps one of the best films ever made) was released the only Oscar it won was for writing, but it lost literally everything else. Writers know good shit when they see it, too bad their a niche minority in Hollywood. 
We want to believe we're noble, and heroic human beings who overcome unsurmountable odds to achieve mental and emotional clarity; hence the Bradley Cooper nomination. Did you really think that Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom; a straight up vicious sociopath who commits atrocities in order to further himself in a business that glorifies violence, as an antihero could stand up to that? Not with the Academy being 80% old white dudes. And Eastwood, his director being one of their own. 
Not since Ace in the Hole has there been such a taught satire of using the news to better one's own career with the subjects of the news being those that pay the ultimate price have we seen such a bleak look into the duality of man, and not since Network has there been such a quippy satire of the news industry; where if you can't find the news, you create it, and the bloodier the better. As Rene Russo ever so eloquently puts it 'picture our news cast as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut'.

'I always say if you're seeing me, you're having the worst day of your life.'
All of those thematic elements that give every film studies student a boner aside, the writing is absolutely perfect. Everything is right there on the page, and writer/director Dan Gilroy really fused his directing ability with putting it into the script first so that the actors who read it would know exactly how to play their characters. One rule of making a film about an anti-hero or an antagonist front and center is that no matter how vile they are, the audience has to find something within them that they can relate to. You cannot have a full on villain that is completely unrelatable carry your film, because the audience will hate you, and they'll hate the film. 
Take Network par example. Faye Dunaway's character of Diana Christensen; the ruthless head of the TV station that goads everyone around her into the realization that the news is what they tell people it is, and if it's not there, they'll create it, is a total monster. Faye even asked her director Sidney Lumet what her character's vulnerability was, and he told her 'she doesn't have any'. This was coupled with two other characters who did (played by William Holden and Peter Fitch) the latter of which finally realizes that his life has been bullshit and gives that iconic speech of 'I'm Mad as Hell!' to a shocked audience. 
the "I want something people can't turn away from" in parentheses (no matter how violent) notion was first galvanized by Faye Dunaway the ruthless station head in Network (seriously watch it, can't believe you haven't yet)
Does Lou Bloom have vulnerability? Probably not, few sociopaths do, but we are attracted to him nonetheless, because we all know what it's like to be hungry, ambitious, and at times ruthless, we've all done something we're not proud of to get what we want, because we want it so much, not to Lou's extent, but we've been there...especially if you live in LA. He's a great antagonist because it's not his vulnerability we relate to, or any weakness he might have, but his motivation. Out of loneliness, anger, and frustration, Lou Bloom dehumanizes himself so that he can utilize a robot-like systematic means of climbing to the top without any second thoughts to his actions. 
On top of which, the story albeit heavily saturated with elevated themes doesn't push any of that into your face. It's Neo-Noir at its best. It's shot against a bleak backdrop of the bad neighborhoods of LA to accentuate the bad parts within the characters; a rusty environment leads to questionable choices. Noir is not supposed to be easy to watch. By definition, it's dark, it is not uplifting, and more importantly, it's the 'bad guy' that usually comes out on top. And if there is no such resolution, then there is none to speak of at all. A hallmark of Noir is ending it ubiquitously without giving the audience the answers it hungers for; so is the world going to be ok? Probably not, Noir dictates. Because there will always be people like Lou Bloom in the world. 
Me personally? I love films like that, that's what I was raised on. The great noirs of the 40's like Detour, Kiss Me Deadly, and Double Indemnity coupled with the death and lunacy laden films of Ingmar Bergman made me the finely well-adjusted adult I am today. This isn't Robert Zemeckis or Frank Darabondt, and Tim Robbins will not finally get to stand in the rain after being incarcerated for 40 years at the end of it (I'm talking about Shawshank Redemption for all you novices). This is the real world, where people aren't born malevolent, but their environment forces them into a desperation that brings out the worst in all of us. We don't want to admit it, but we'd go there too if we were hungry enough. 
Beautifully written, beautifully acted, beautifully marrying neo-noir gritty realism with (excuse the cliche) heart-pounding echo of a good-old-fashioned action thriller, Nightcrawler is definitely one of the greatest films of that year, if not in fact my subjectively favorite one. Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (which won Best Picture last year) might have a lot of sappy sentiment that it masks in unique and brave directing techniques and indelible performances, but a man who overcomes tremendous odds to succeed in the liberation of his soul is much more appealing to viewers than a man who without a second thought brings mayhem and sadistic cruelty to the world around him and effectively makes his environment more ruthless simply by being in it. Brings new cadence to the phrase; 'If you can't beet 'em, join em'. 

Below clips of aforementioned films and trailer for Nightcrawler. Also the shooting script is available online. All it takes is a good Google search. Or ask me, fuck it. 

What Lou Bloom wants...

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