Review – Smile, You’re On Sleazy Camera! (“Nightcrawler”)

Newbie director and screenwriter Dan Gilroy, brother of legendary screenwriter Tony Gilroy (The Bourne series, Michael Clayton), shows us the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree with this exciting, tense, and sometimes nauseating look at sensationalistic TV journalism.

Jake Gyllenhaal is Louis Bloom, an off-kilter, slightly psychotic petty crook who scrounges at night stealing what he can to make a buck, until he happens upon a car accident and sees a pair of freelance video reporters (aka “stringers”) who sell the horrors of the scene for cash. He meets “nightcrawler” Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), L.A.’s #1 videographer of bloody news, whose mantra is “if it bleeds, it leads”. And it pays pretty good, too!

Inspired, Louis steals to get himself a police scanner and camcorder and ventures out from dusk to dawn filming car accidents, shoot-outs, and anything else that he might sell to local TV news. Slow learning at first at how to film and what’s acceptable, Louis finds local L.A. Channel 6 (the lowest rung on the news ladder) and news director Nina Romina (Rene Russo). She’ll buy his sleazy videos of people bleeding and in pain, but she wants more; anything to increase their ratings. Armed with money and laser focused with a new direction in his life, Louis adds a slow-witted homeless young man
named Rick (Riz Ahmed) as an intern.

Months go by and Louis improves his techniques, making bank selling his shock videos. Nothing is beyond him; even moving the bodies at accidents to make it “look” better. He’s got new clothes, a hot new car, equipment, and has secretly taken out his competition by sabotage. His level of amorality and lascivious hunger rises as he spouts business jargon like a religious zealot and even emotionally blackmails Nina for more money and power at her TV station. One night, he and Rick go to a home invasion to film it before the police get there, and Louis videotapes the killers as well as the bloody aftermath inside the home.

Louis hides the video evidence of the killers from the police until he can film the capture of the two, y’know, so it’ll look good on video! He and Rick follow the two murderers to a Chinese fast-food eatery, call 911, then all hell breaks loose. The roller-coaster ending shows you just how low Louis has sunk into the abyss with the utter loss of his soul to power and greed.

It’s not too often you have a movie from a fledgling director and screenwriter that not only gives you one helluva great movie, but makes you think as well. Next time you watch the 6 o’clock news and see the footage of a mangled car crash or a burning building, you’ll think of the ‘stringers’ that filmed it.

Then there’s the incredible acting. Seeing Louis’ endless depravity and how he gets there slowly but surely, is sickeningly wonderful to watch. Gyllenhaal’s piercing 1000-yard-stare eyes, his really creepy robotic tone of voice, and Gilroy’s patient and expert direction (you never knew what was going to happen next), makes this a winner all around. And let’s not forget lovely Rene Russo in another great role for her as the TV director.                                 

The Public Eye

“I have to be in the public eye. I have to have the moment”. Those words are spoken by Leo “Bernzy” Bernstein (Joe Pesci), a cigar-chomping, amoral paparazzi in the 1940’s, whose whole life is chasing after the story: shooting photos of mostly dead mobsters in NYC.

Nicknamed “The Great Bernzini”, he listens to the police scanner and totes around his huge box camera (remember, no tiny digital’s back then), and even develops the pic’s from his car trunk. He even goes as far as moving the bodies to make them more aesthetically pleasing. “People love to see the hat next to the body” All the police (and even the crooks) know him and love his work, but secretly Leo is painfully lonely and has no life outside his 24/7 profession.

One day, Kay Levitz (Barbara Hershey), a beautiful nightclub owner, offers him a job. It seems the mob is muscling in on her due to some previous arrangement with her late husband. Kay asks Leo if he’d investigate a shady individual she considers trouble. Driven by her good looks, he agrees to help, but after the guy he tails winds up dead and the Feds get involved, things start to unravel quickly.

Investigating the dead man’s past and why the Fed’s are so interested in him leads to mob family conspiracies, secret cover-ups, and a government plan involving gasoline rationing. Leo is caught between a rock and hard place with Kay’s possible affections for him and two mob families ready going to war with each other. Leo learns from Sal (Stanley Tucci), a crook-turned-informant, that the Spoleto crime family is gonna wipe out the Farenelli family at a restaurant, so Leo is right there, eagerly taking pictures during the melee!

Written and directed by Howard Franklin, this movie is based on the real-life 1940’s photographer, Arthur “Weegee” Fellig, who photographed NYC urban life, crime, and gruesome death photos. In fact, many of the photos used in this move were Fellig’s. Franklin stuck pretty close to Fellig’s life in his movie, even copying his look’s, habit’s, and fact’s about his life. While the direction was generally good, the screenplay meandered and lost it’s tempo after the the first act, which is a shame, since there was so much source material to work from.

Pesci, fresh from his Goodfellas role is good here, but he looks restrained in his character. Whether tired, unhappy about the script, or his part, is hard to say. Anyway, it was a box office disappointment to say the least, but for fun, check out the real-life Fellig online and his work. HIS life is far more interesting than this movie!

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