Lou Bloom is a petty thief who gets inspired to become a freelance photographer, selling exclusive photos of crime scenes to the local news. But as Lou gets a taste for success, he starts pushing the boundaries of what he can get away with, from minor tampering to deliberate sabotage.
For most of the time that it was on the Netflix suggestions list, I had assumed that Nightcrawler was a lesser-known X-Men spin-off film. In fact, it turned out to be something completely different.
If you like films with honourable protagonists, or where villains get shown the error of their ways, then Nightcrawler isn’t for you. In fact, if you want to like or sympathise with the main character at all, you should probably give this one a miss. Lou is not an honourable thief, or a down-on-his-luck hero desperately trying to make good. He’s a chancer, an opportunist, and utterly out for himself. People die because of his actions, but that’s exactly what he expects. All that matters to Lou is getting what he wants.
If that hasn’t put you off entirely, then at its heart Nightcrawler is a story about unethical journalism and sensationalist reporting. The film demonstrates exactly what we’ve now all come to realise – there’s no higher moral truth driving journalism and the reporting of news. If simplistic clickbait and sensational exaggeration are the things that garner views and engagement, then that’s what news stations will prioritise. Lou may be selfish and amoral, but he is driven by a system that rewards exactly those behaviours. He’s motivated to seek out or take a hand in creating the most extreme and grisly footage because that’s exactly what the director of the local news station has said she’ll pay him the most for. And she, for her part, has no qualms about bending or misreporting the truth if it makes for a tastier story.
Nightcrawler is by no means a fun or uplifting film to watch, but it is slick and well put together. This is not a film to use as escapism, but one that enshrines a chilling message about the state of modern journalism.