Sunday, November 16, 2014
Watching Dan Gilroy's Nightcrawler
(2014) reminded me -- in a very painful way -- why I never pursued journalism as a career, although it was my major in college. I graduated in 1999 with a mass communication degree with some Latin honours attached to it, and promptly got the job -- I knew it was going to be a temporary thing -- as editor-in-chief of a regional newspaper. Around the time, I was also fielding offers to work in a Makati bank (I still wonder how they got my resume), among others. This included an offer to become the regional news director for The Manila Times
, which was going through a terrible reshuffling at that time -- which was perhaps they were willing to take on a greenhorn like me. The job meant I had to be based in Cebu City, and then pursue and direct hard stories in the name of news. For some reason, I just could not see myself doing it. I turned it down. Back in journalism school, I hated the grind of covering the police beat, and I hated having to run after politicians, criminals, and other newsmakers to get my sound byte in order to beat the 3 p.m. deadline. Watching this new film reminded me about that pursuit. But it was also something else quite entirely. Nightcrawler
is a mindfucker of a movie, and by the end of it, I found myself delirious and uneasy over what it wanted to say.
What exactly is Nightcrawler
? Is it a contemporary film noir, living off the muck of Los Angeles urban crime? Is it a diatribe against tabloid journalism and its blurring of morality in newsmaking? Is it a procedural over how to be ingenious and crafty enough to get the footage you want that's "fit" for the morning news and primed for ratings bonanza? Is it a study of sociopathic behaviour? Is it an illustration over how to build a business from the ground up, throwing in chutzpah and business school rhetoric as major ingredients for success? Is it the perfect embodiment of what Austin Kleon once said about how to make it as an artist: "Fake it till you make it"?
I guess this is all of that. Jake Gyllenhaal -- who is incredibly wiry and scarecrowy as the sociopathic Lou Bloom -- plays a "nightcrawler," which is industry lingo for those independent "news gatherers" that hover over police scanner dispatches to get to scenes of crime just in time to capture graphic footage of what's happening. These they serve up to directors of TV news, who pay them piecemeal -- and more if the footage happens to be bloodier, or more exclusive, than the rest. The interesting about Lou Bloom is that he stumbles into this career quite by accident. He starts out as some petty thief, and chances upon Bill Paxton's nightcrawler in an accident -- and gets fascinated by what he sees. He is intrepid and smart, he is business-savvy, he is hungry for relevance, and he learns fast. And soon he starts making a name for himself as the topnotch go-to guy in his field, with much thanks to Rene Russo's Nina, a news director of a lowly TV station who recognises in Lou a kindred spirit, and who shares a preponderancy for brushing aside moral dilemmas for the sake of a story. This is basically a rags-to-success story for Lou Bloom, but it's a film that has none of that Horatio Alger sentimentality. We are asked to sympathise with a conniving, cold-blooded creature who will sacrifice anything and anyone to be good at his job. What unsettles is that we actually find everything that Lou does to be logical and honest. He is
But is that ever enough?
I'm glad I quit the news job before it could ensnare me into this kind of dilemma. It's hyperbolic, of course, but with the news the way it is right now, I'm not sure the hyperbole in the film is even unreal anymore.
Labels: film, journalism, life, news
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