NIGHTCRAWLER

nightcrawler-posterThey never get it right. Whether on the big screen or TV, depictions of the television news business, either national or local, are unfailingly inaccurate. Feature comedies like MORNING GLORY and THE UGLY TRUTH, small screen dramas like “The Newsroom” and (for a looooong look back), Morgan Fairchild’s THE SEDUCTION and Martin Sheen’s NEWS AT ELEVEN — they each laughably rearrange the reality of how news gets on the air for dramatic convenience. And NIGHTCRAWER, thanks to the extra time it takes showing us the mechanics of production, deserves a strong, hard, tooth-loosening slap in the face for being perhaps the most egregious of all. This is a world where the News Director in Los Angeles also functions as a show producer, in both executive and line capacities, and personally negotiates the price of each stringer video. She also delivers running orders to the anchors while they are live on the air — lashing them over the PL with her urgency as though they were racehorses. The stringers themselves operate in a world that allows them within inches of murder victims still bleeding and lifesaving operations; they have a Ted Williams average at finding spectacular scenes that lead to we’re-leading-with-it “Exclusive”s, seemingly on a nightly basis. Exaggeration worked in NETWORK because that was a satire. The filmmakers may think NIGHTCRAWLER is too, but a movie that uses the tired banality “If it bleeds, it leads” right near the beginning pretty much promises what’s to come: a cheap and stale shot with no new perspective that repeats all the tired tropes about the industry. And to underscore the cliche, that News Director enthusiastically chooses to put on the air what would never in a million newscasts ever ever EVER be shown. The scrupulosity with which stations sanitize gore is perhaps greater today than ever; there hasn’t been a centimeter of backslide since 1976, when NETWORK was released and (first?) raised the issue. Also, the sheer illegality as to what gets put on the air and how it is obtained is simply jaw-dropping. Just flat-out impossible. But essential, because without that element, you have no movie. Jake Gyllenhaal does his best at creating a “character” and he does it well, but he’s no Travis Bickle. He’s a hustler on the make and a crackpot, often engaging, sometimes irritating. But his story means nothing. That a movie this false should choose a cynical ending seems appropriate: it comes off as smug, just like what precedes it. — Jeff Schultz

 

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