What Jesse said:
So I thought I was gonna watch a movie about one of my favourite Marvel characters, instead I get a weird movie about how Jake Gyllenhaal spends his nights looking for bloody footage to sell to sleazy TV news people who go by the motto “if it bleeds it leads…”. Nice. Gyllenhaal does a nice job as an ambitious sociopath and I can’t remember the last time I saw Renee Russo in anything but she was pretty good too. Check it out.
I was intrigued by the trailer for this movie. It combined a slow-simmering and eerie awkwardness with an uncommonly clean look – creepy but without the cliché grittiness that everyone’s been doing lately. It gave me high hopes for the movie despite the fact that the concept – people chasing gruesome disasters with a camera, intent on sell the footage to television news – didn’t jump out at me as particularly interesting. I wasn’t overly excited, but I expected there would be a sufficient backdrop for exploring the creepy characters presented in the trailer.
I was wrong.
I will admit that the subtle unsettling nature of the trailer does come through in the full movie. The atmosphere is right, and the creepy-but-clean setting works. Unfortunately, a lot of the scenes are drawn-out – presumably to build suspense – and they’re left just a little too long. Eerie only stays suspenseful if it fluctuates enough to not become desensitizing. Nightcrawler fails at this. It’s really, really slow.
The film is also very obvious. Maybe I have a dim view of human beings, but I wasn’t surprised by any of the things the main character did. I could see every plot point coming way in advance, and that includes the ‘big surprise’ at the end.
‘Slow’ and ‘obvious’ are enough to ruin a movie themselves, but my criticisms are not done: the characters are problematic as well.
One major issue is inherent in Jake Gyllenhaal‘s character. He’s a terrible person on the inside, and a terrible person on the outside. Everything he says is garbage and nobody around him is fooled by it. That’s the point – he’s fake and we all know it. Unfortunately, the nature of acting requires the actor to pretend to be something they are not, and convince the audience. In this case, Gyllenhaal is pretending to be someone who is unconvincingly pretending to be someone. The meta-acting means that Gyllenhaal has to convince me that he is someone who is unconvincing – in other words, the more convincing Gyllenhaal is, the less I am convinced. This movie was doomed right from the beginning. Gyllenhaal could never come across as convincing, because he was trying to be unconvincing.
Sadly, I have problems with the other main characters as well.
Rene Russo‘s character is just awful. I have no idea if she is an accurate depiction of a television news producer, but I really hope not. The trope of the newsman (or woman, whatever) who is willing to do anything for the story is well grounded in reality, but I would like to think that most television producers would set a higher standard for what they are willing to give up personally for the story. This is especially true given that Gyllenhaal’s character is so intentionally unconvincing in his sales pitches. For every hard decision Russo’s character has to make, her choice is unbelievably stupid. And I mean that literally – I simply could not believe that a real person would make such choices. Riz Ahmed‘s character suffers a similar fate – he’s so stupid that I have a hard time believing he could exist.
The movie actually reminds me a lot of the True Detective mini-series. The series definitely shares an intention with Nightcrawler: to show the awfulness of individual humans in an eerie but clean atmosphere. But it also shares its problems; both are slow, obvious and lacking believable characters. Unsurprisingly, Jesse liked both.
As for the most significant complaint raised by Jesse (and way too many other comic nerds), the bottom line is that the Marvel character is not known even remotely well enough for the movie producers to have thought there would be confusion. Marvel’s Nightcrawler is little more than a tag-along to the X-Men and nobody can realistically argue that they saw this movie thinking it was going to be about mutants. If Marvel ever chooses to make X-Men 56: Nightcrawler’s Turn, Jesse will have no doubt what the movie is about – because every showing will be sold-out 3 weeks in advance and there will be over-night line-ups of desperate nerds outside every theatre.