I lived the latter half of my 20s and early part of my 30s in the heart of Hollywood. Up the street from my Sycamore Avenue apartment was the location of Janis Joplin’s death, and just a few steps south was the beginning of Hollywood Boulevard’s most populated area. While tourists came and went every day, along with visiting Angelenos, the two blocks from my apartment to Highland Avenue were part of my daily life as a cinephile: the Kodak (Dolby) Theatre (home of the Academy Awards), the El Capitan Theatre (home of Jimmy Kimmel Live!), the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel (home of the first Academy Awards) and the famous Graumann’s Chinese Theatre. Although I didn’t physically enter all of these places from day to day, I was physically present.
As a cinephile, Hollywood Boulevard from Sycamore-Orange-Highland was my entire world for over six years until I moved back to the Midwest. I consistently encountered the most infamous Hollywood paparazzi, while keeping my distance as they snapped away after movie premieres. My goal was to catch all the latest films and gain after-party access, but sometimes I’d just hit up the Jimmy Kimmel Green Room, since I worked with the top vendor of ABC On-Air Promotions. Regardless of personal connections, I learned that information was power, along with an understanding of how the neighborhood worked.
As I navigated the boulevard over the years, one particular cameraman stood out as being the #1 public enemy. With new movies premiering every few weeks at Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, this guy was always around but I never learned his name. He would spark up conversations with the Hollywood Boulevard crowd, only to trash them, including children, once a celebrity approached and he couldn’t get his shot. The usual line was, “I’m trying to do my f**king job!” As a Hollywood transplant from the land of “Minnesota Nice,” I could only shake my head and contemplate the decline of common courtesy. Whether it was a pregnant woman, a frightened tourist or even a little kid, this guy did not give a f**k.
And so, when I finally saw Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler last week, and heard Bill Paxton’s camera-wielding Joe Loder cry out “Some people are trying to do their f**king job,” I had to snicker and think back upon my experiences with Hollywood paparazzi and the innocent bystanders who were verbally trashed by a photog in search of the perfect shot.
What I found unique about Nightcrawler was the instant identification of Lou Bloom as a thief. He’s not doing his job — he steals from others to make a few bucks. But what happens when he peddles his goods for cash? The transaction goes off without a hitch…well, except for the fact that Lou’s attempt at full-time employment highlights the very essence of his current state (thievery). The similarities to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver are unavoidable, except that Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) gets the job, isn’t a thief and proceeds to live his life in a darkened slumber. Lou, on the other hand, embraces his failed interview experience as a business lesson, and the gears of his programmed mind (Hollywood) begin to turn.
I don’t know where Lou is from, and I’m not sure that Nightcrawler acknowledges his home state, but he’s an individual capable of playing the LA game — and he’s quite good at it. Lou Bloom is well groomed, speaks like a gentleman, never loses his temper (in public) and knows how to flash a big smile. It’s a checklist for any LA transplant to adhere to, although speaking as a gentleman doesn’t earn you any points on Hollywood Boulevard.
Nightcrawler features more LA newscasters than core actors. They speak to Lou much like the television spoke to Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. The difference with Lou is that he’s able to properly communicate himself to others, regardless of whether he’s telling the truth. When Lou first approaches Joe Loder at the site of a horrific car accident, he briefly shadows the experienced cameraman and allows himself to speak honestly: “I don’t know what’s happening.”
Although Lou doesn’t necessarily understand his future, what’s important is that he embraces the present. Loder mocks Bloom, given his inferior equipment, but ultimately comes around to the persistence of the man with a movie camera. Both understand that success, in their line of work, requires a little deception and exaggerations of the truth. And Lou does work hard. He learns the police codes, dedicates himself entirely to the job and approaches a well-known news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo), with supreme confidence. But like so many Hollywood transplants, Lou’s not doing the work because he loves it; he’s doing the work for easy cash (and for a little sex). In other words, if he can effectively go from A to C by skipping over B, then why in the world should he not have D? Lou’s game is akin to David Koechner’s Champ Kind in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: “Have some chicken, maybe some sex.”
The supporting cast of Nightcrawler represents The Hollywood Transplant (Riz Ahmed as Lou’s assistant Rick), The Hollywood Dream (Bill Paxton as Joe Loder) and The Hollywood Reality (Rene Russo as Nina Romina). Overseeing the action is The Hollywood Sign (Jake Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom): big, white and difficult to approach (although not impossible).
Lou’s assistant Rick merely wants a steady job, and Mr. Hollywood knows exactly how to manipulate him. Incidentally, Lou knows exactly how to manipulate reality in order to push along his master plan. The only question is whether he can manipulate the Hollywood dream long enough to avoid being caught by LA’s finest, as he’s only a few steps way from reaching the almighty Hollywood sign (success!) and finalizing a new identity.
As a piece of filmmaking, Gilroy managed to shift the attention from L.A. entirely to Gyllenhaal, who deserves numerous accolades for his performance. Lou’s quest for approval mirrors De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin from Scorsese’s under-appreciated 1983 film The King of Comedy. The cool and collected Lou Bloom doesn’t consider himself dangerous, which is the inherent problem with his code of conduct. It all makes sense to him, as long as he’s not forced to fire Chekhov’s gun. That’s up to the police.
Bloom’s gun is the camera, and his detached persona is the proverbial bullet, but he’ll never smell the powder until it’s too late. He’s a superstar.
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