Nightcrawler: Capitalism is the Con

Nightcrawler shows without telling. A two hour movie that flies by, it has one of the sleaziest characters I’ve ever seen. We see what it takes for a man to rise through the ranks of TV news and become a business owner. The music and cinematography, the bulk of which happens at night, contribute to a dreamy aesthetic. Not just the main character but the whole cast are incredibly believable.

Nightcrawler sets itself apart by focusing on Lou, a conman who ends up with a crappy crime-footage business. He races ambulances and sells the footage to TV news, breaking rules and laws that others won’t. Such is the first domino that sets him up for buying better equipment, hiring an assistant, and striving for ever-more-graphic footage. I’m not familiar with Jake Gyllenhaal’s work, but he does an amazing Jim Carrey here. As a conman, he’s almost conning himself with how corny his dialog is. And he sells it with down-home “honesty” and exaggerated facial contortions. The rare times he’s off his cool, a different side emerges.

The other incredible piece of Nightcrawler is its ferocious rebuke of capitalism. Lou desperately wants to be a capitalist (someone who owns what it takes to make money, and withholds the profit from the workers who use the tools that make the money). He plans this from the start, and every piece clicks into place. Almost every step is perfectly logical. Even better, the movie doesn’t announce the steps. Once, I thought I outsmarted the movie - only for the next scene to illustrate why Lou did what he did.

Lou is a sociopath.1 The movie thus implies that all capitalists are sociopaths. Lou makes thousands of dollars while paying his employee $30 a night. He makes his employees do the most dangerous jobs, flagrantly lies to them, and sets them on the path to certain death. These activities are not that different from what business owners do. Logging is the most dangerous job in America, yet loggers make a median of $40,000 a year. Logging CEOs make 20 times that while taking none of the occupational risks. Lou repeats platitudes that I hear myself at work. “We’re all a team”, “you need to apply yourself more”, and most critically, most upsettingly for Lou: “it’s a two way street”. When his employee uses the same cutthroat tactics Lou has been using, he goes berserk. I’ve had bosses get furious at me for turning in my notice in favor of a better offer, yet have no issues lowballing prospective employees.

Nightcrawler zooms past. There are no wasted shots. It’s not a hard movie to understand, so it doesn’t waste your time with explanatory dialogue. Every line builds up the characters and their motivation. Everything you need is right here, and the result is exhilarating.

  1. In the popular sense. Scientists distance themselves from the term. ↩︎