It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Dan Gilroy's thriller "Nightcrawler" is about an amateur cameraman who parlays his eye and his nerve into a successful small business, deceiving, manipulating and exploiting everyone who stands in his way. Shot by Paul Thomas Anderson's regular cinematographer Robert Elswit through what could be a Night Vision Rot filter, it's a film about how sociopaths get over on everyone else, and a portrait of a disturbed, marginal loner that would fit perfectly on a double bill with "Taxi Driver" and "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer." It's also a media satire in the spirit of "Network" and "To Die For" that takes the slogan "If it bleeds, it leads" to its horrifyingly logical conclusion. It's a comedy.
The movie's hero, Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a man living on the fringes. He's first seen trying to cut through a chain-link fence to steal scrap that he can sell for pocket money. While driving late at night, he happens upon cameramen filming a car wreck. He asks the lead cameraman (Bill Paxton) what TV station they work for, and learns that they're freelancers who monitor police radios, chase down wrecks and fires and homicides, and sell their video footage to the highest bidder. The rates aren't great, but they're better than what Lou is used to, so he buys a camera and gets in on the action.
This leads him to a local station whose news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), has been up and down the dial, as a certain sitcom's theme song once sang, and needs to raise her newscast out of last place to keep from getting fired. Any idealism she had was ground out of her years ago; only desperation remains, and she speaks frankly to Lou from the moment she meets him, sensing a kindred spirit. (She has no idea how kindred: soon enough he'll cajole, pressure and even scare her into unleashing her own inner Lou.) Nina tells him to avoid covering crime in poor or nonwhite neighborhoods because nobody cares about it; the sexiest crime stories are ones involving affluent white folks. At one point she flat-out tells Lou that the newscast's aesthetic could be boiled down the the image of "a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut." The newscasters' warning "These are extremely graphic images" is not, of course, a warning; it's a come-on.
Sensing a golden opportunity, Lou feeds Nina footage that's more artless than the stuff offered by other local crews, but much bloodier. It starts with shots of a domestic killing that he obtained by sneaking past crime tape and wandering around inside the gore-strewn house (blurred by Nina's technicians, but only because they're required to blur it) and escalates, to the point where Lou is subtly goosing circumstances in order to produce more violence and chaos which he can then tape and sell. Lou and his easily cowed assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed), breach barriers they aren't supposed to breach, and get close enough to police investigators and firefighters and EMT's that they break their concentration and sometimes interfere with their work, but their literally in-your-face footage sets them apart from teams that film from a discreet distance, with a zoom lens.