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Laramie Movie Scope:

Your local news, brought to you by a psychopath

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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November 3, 2014 -- A movie with the name of “Nightcrawler,” released just in time for Halloween, you'd think it's a horror film, right? You wouldn't be too far off. This psychological drama about a creepy young man who seems friendly enough, until you cross him, has some elements of horror, as well as crime drama. The real creepy part of it is how it depicts the corruption and degradation of TV news into something other than journalism. I think Stephen Colbert might say the resulting concoction has a lot of “truthiness” in it.

The creepy young man is Lou Bloom (played by Jake Gyllenhaal of “Prisoners”). He is a petty thief with a very artificial-sounding line of patter. He's not as smooth as a con man. He looks more than a little rough around the edges. He likes to cite factoids he finds on the internet. He seems friendly enough, but can turn deadly in an instant. He's not quite like Hannibal Lecter, but he's just enough off-kilter to put you on edge.

When we first see Lou, he is stealing man hole covers, wire, scrap metal, anything he can lay his hands on to make money. Then, he sees a freelance news video crew, headed by Joe Loder (Bill Paxton of “Edge of Tomorrow”) in action at a car accident. He sees this as a way to make some money. He trades in some stolen items at a pawn shop for a video camera and starts to work.

At first, he stumbles into any old crime scene, fire or accident, trying to get as close as he can to the action, without knowing what kind of footage, besides the bloody kind, will sell. He meets a news producer at a second-rate station, Nina Romina (Rene Russo of the “Thor” movies, who is married to the director of this film) and she clues him in to what the station wants.

The station is looking for crime footage, the bloodier the better, in upscale neighborhoods, where rich white people are the victims and blacks and other minorities are the criminals. Just watch “Cops” and you'll see what crime demographic Nina is looking for. The idea is to show only those scenes that put fear into the rich white folks, and at the same time make them feel morally superior to the low-life criminals they see on TV.

Lou gets a police scanner and studies the police codes. He hires an assistant, Rick (Riz Ahmed of “Four Lions”) to help him navigate the many neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Rick is so desperate for work, he'll put up with Lou's sleazy, cheap ways, and overcome his fear as Lou drives at insane speeds to get to accidents and crime scenes first, taking desperate chances along the way. Eventually, the two men become an effective team.

The team is successful enough to afford a better car and better video equipment. Lou becomes an important contributor to Nina's news casts and the station's ratings start to rise. If Lou gets to an accident or crime scene before the cops do, he is not above moving bodies around to get a better shot. He also becomes better at framing his shots and drawing the viewer in.

Like a spider, spinning a web of manipulation, Lou starts putting pressure on Nina for sexual favors, pointing out he can make more money selling his videos to more profitable TV stations in town. Lou finally hits the jackpot. He gets to a spectacular murder scene in an upscale neighborhood before the police get there.

Lou is able to leverage the graphic crime footage for more power with Nina and with the station, which agrees to give him on-air credit for his videos from now on. The police take an interest in Lou. One cop, Detective Fronteiri (Michael Hyatt) figures out that Lou has used information he withheld from the police to manipulate events, resulting in the deaths of policemen and others just to get some good video, but she can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

In leveraging his power and position, he points out to Nina that the crime rate is falling. That makes his crime videos more valuable. He appropriates the ideas of visionary freelancer Joe Loder, who offers Lou a job before being ruthlessly eliminated as a competitor. Lou is well on the way to being a major force in the news business. Psychopaths make the best entrepreneurs. He is to journalism what Hannibal Lecter was to psychiatry.

The story didn't have me convinced. For one thing, Lou takes way too many chances in the way he drives, the way he slips past police barriers into crime scenes and messes with evidence. He never gets caught tinkering with evidence and somehow avoids car crashes while taking these chances. This is appears to be due more to luck than to skill. A man in Lou's position needs the cooperation of the police, and he has burned too many bridges for that.

On the whole, however, this is an engrossing story that is very well acted. The cinematography by Robert Elswit is excellent (he won an Oscar for his work in “There Will Be Blood”). First-time director Dan Gilroy (a screenwriter turned director) maintains a good pace throughout the film, and is equally adept handling action scenes and dramatic scenes. It works on every level as drama, social commentary, action. For journalists especially, this is a horror story. This film rates a B+.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2014 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)