Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Batman, there is a Darkman. For every Hunger Games, there is a Battle Royale. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures.Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the Oscar-nominated Jake Gyllenhaal crime thriller, Nightcrawler (Last week: Forbidden Room)
Weird Watches aren’t usually the kind of movies that get nominated for Academy Awards. Every once in awhile a film comes along that is as critically lauded as it is strange. Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut, Nightcrawler, is an uncomfortable piece of cinema that crawls under the viewer’s skin and refuses to leave. It is also brilliantly constructed, with a stellar screenplay, incredible performances, and eye-boggling cinematography. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay (it lost to the equally strange/brilliant Birdman), the film is one of those rare few that bridges the gap between cinephiles and general audiences.
The film centers around a driven and desperate man (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) down on his luck who accidentally discovers the late-night world of nightcrawlers: individuals who shoot video of crime and accidents for the morning news. His introduction to the world is summed up in one sentence at a car accident by cameraman Joe Loder (portrayed by the always-excellent Bill Paxton): “If it bleeds, it leads.” The protagonist, Louis Bloom, takes these words to heart and goes out to buy video equipment from a pawn shop. He then begins his dark descent into the unscrupulous world of local news broadcasts with only an idea and a cheap camera. Within a short time, he is able to use his wits and lack of morals to get exclusive footage and major cash.
If Loder starts off as unlikeable, achieving his dreams only further stains his character. Becoming more despicable as the film progresses, he abandons whatever humanity he had in favor of money and power. He is abusive to his sidekick/protégé, Rick (Riz Ahmed), despite the fact that the poor man is doing his best and trying to impress Loder. He uses blackmail to coerce a local newswoman into having sex with him and creating an exclusivity contract. Loder even breaks into a home immediately after a murder to record the aftermath. Loder’s actions are orchestrations of death and pain, though he never seems to mind. Loder is a sociopath, the kind of person who understands humanity enough to manipulate it, but never to be a part of it.
Jake’s growth as an actor continues
Gyllenhaal’s performance is stellar. He’s unnerving and clearly a bit unhinged without overselling it. In addition to blinking as rarely as possible (an acting tactic he learned while filming Donnie Darko), Gyllenhaal also lost 20 pounds for the role in order to maintain a gaunt, starved appearance. He likened Loder to a hungry coyote, and it’s not hard to imagine the man as an animal just barely surviving. The other actors are also great, their distaste for Loder palpable.
The cutthroat world of local news is presented as a place with few morals left, though Loder’s ruthlessness makes him a powerful player. In a time when local news channels compete for ratings and a good broadcast can save or destroy someone’s career, old-school journalistic ethics have been left by the wayside. The people at the news station know that Loder isn’t an upright moral source for video, but they take his work anyway because it helps them keep their jobs. Even after he goes too far, they skirt the rules to keep his footage. By the time they understand their mistakes, it’s already far too late.
Nightcrawler is also technically brilliant, with beautiful cinematography that makes Los Angeles look both hollow and lovely. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to Nicholas Winding Refn’s 2011 film Drive, as the films feature similar lighting and composition. Unlike Drive, Nightcrawler is more tightly edited, though there are some lingering shots that let the viewer process things for a moment. The only part that drags is the first 30 minutes, but once the characters and world have been established, the rest of the runtime flies by.
Nightcrawler takes an unflinching look at a profession that requires almost no empathy. It’s unsettling in the best of ways, taking the viewer down the rabbit hole right alongside Loder. Almost everyone has known someone like the nightcrawler, someone who settles in on the fringes and uses other people to get their way. It’s uncomfortable because it’s so easy to see his descent as real, and that makes it one hell of a Weird Watch.
Read more in our regular Weird Watch series here.