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March 24th, 2017

Nightcrawler

****

While Vermont TV news still maintains a little decency, big city local news has lost all restraint. Every night at 11 p.m. and every morning at 6 a.m. it’s the same horrible routine: accidents, violence, fear-mongering and death.

And for every lurid story about twisted car crashes and street corner stabbings, there was someone there to film it; there’s a sleepless, soulless vampire with a video camera who is glad it happened and eager to make $200 from another person’s suffering.

What kind of man would do that for a living? Louis Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal).

When we meet Louis, he is an insomniac street hustler who scrapes by stealing fences and manhole covers for a few bucks. But Louis is more ambitious than your average thief: he has a tireless work ethic, a genuine belief in the American Dream, and an online business degree.

Louis finds his calling when he happens upon a fatal car accident and sees an excited man filming the crash for profit. Lewis asks the freelance photog for a job. When the camera man says no, Louis steals a bike, trades it for a camcorder, and races around LA every night filming murder and mayhem.

“Nightcrawler” works as an action flick. We’ve seen too many movies about superheroes who roam the streets to fight crime. It’s just as exciting and more realistic to see a man race around the city to profit off crime. Louis is as brave as Batman. It just never occurred to him to use his powers to help anyone but himself.

Louis doesn’t view himself as a hero or as a monster. He’s a business man, plain and simple.

The obvious message of “Nightcrawler” is that the nightly news is disgraceful trash. But most people already know that.

Writer/director Dan Gilroy’s more subtle and interesting message is that Louis Bloom is no different and no worse than the average CEO.

Louis hires a desperate young homeless man to go out with him every night. He calls his new co-worker an intern and pays him $30 per day. As Louis’s methods become increasingly irresponsible and morally dubious, he calmly explains his behavior in terms of “growing the business” and “expanding the brand.”

Gilroy argues that 21st century companies use benign-sounding business-speak to justify commoditizing human beings, keeping wages down, and exploiting their workers. With comedy rather than outrage, Gilroy tries to explain why corporate profits are jumping right now while wages are stagnating.

I don’t agree with everything “Nightcrawler” has to say about capitalism. But I absolutely agree with its condemnation of the media. Local news is violent, sensationalist garbage. (Except this newspaper, of course!).

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