NIGHTCRAWLER (2014): Insensitive News Program and Why (They Think) We Love It


My deepest condolence is for those who lost their loved ones in the tragic crash of Indonesia’s AirAsia flight QZ8501.

When the missing of Indonesia’s AirAsia flight QZ8501, flying from Indonesia’s Surabaya to Singapore Sunday (12/28/2014), became news, I was at the airport waiting for my flight (I was about to go back to my work town after a short holiday of Christmas). I wasn’t watching TV at the time (there are TVs on the airport obviously but they were out of my sight), but Twitter got me informed about the news. However, tweets with hashtag #matikanTVlokal (#turnofflocalTV) flooded my timeline, complaining about how some news channels so insensitively interviewed the relatives of the flight passengers. It was obvious that the relatives were mourning and worried about the missing airplane but these news reporters kept asking them about how they felt about the incident over and over again. Perhaps the reporters thought that this kind of “drama” could skyrocket their rating, but it’s apparent to see that people don’t like such drama. That’s why the hashtag trends: it encouraged us not to watch news program that sold sadness and sympathy instead of giving facts and information about the incident. 

So what does it have to do with “Nightcrawler”?

“Nightcrawler”, written and directed by first-time director Dan Gilroy, is a movie about Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a jobless guy, tried to make a career by being a stringer. A stringer, or a nightcrawler, is the term for people who record urban crime, usually at night, and sell it to local TV news channel to be aired the next morning. By interfering into police’s radio signal, Lou tries to get to the crime scene as fast as he can, record it using his camcorder, and sells it to some news producers. In his very first attempt, he sold his crime video to Nina (Rene Russo), a news producer from a local news channel, and to his surprise she gave compliment for his recording (despite the terrible video quality). Having Nina as his “boss”, he optimistically makes his way to be a good nightcrawler by hiring another jobless guy Rick (Riz Ahmed), although in his way he has to make a dirty competition with another stringer, Joe (Bill Paxton).


The reason why these recordings sell is that they usually give a deeper, more realistic look to the crime. The more dangerous the crime is, the higher the program rating will be. That’s why in his next moves, Lou re-arranges the crime scene just to make it feel more dramatic. He even trespasses police-lined crime scene so he can look into it and gather more detailed pictures. He wants to get a crime report so vivid as if viewers are watching a crime movie.

But here is the catch: do audiences really like it? Is this the kind of news we expect to see on TV? Do we like to see bleeding victims while having our breakfast?

The #matikanTVlokal hashtag shows that actually we don’t. This “Twitter movement” shows that we’re educated viewers. We demand facts, not cheap drama. We expect details, not pity. 

It is so unfortunate that “Nightcrawler” talks so less about it. “Nightcrawler” does not tell us what kind of response the audiences give towards these cheap news reports. The audiences are scared, of course, because they know that these crimes can also happen to them. But do they thank the news stations for telling them such crime stories? Or do they protested them? Or do they even turn their TVs on in the morning? These are unanswered question that makes “Nightcrawler” feels greatly unbalanced. It keeps exciting us with a deep look into the process of making these “dirty news records” but there is not enough motives to show that the process is really necessary.


Instead of covering this, “Nightcrawler” gives more focus on its leading character, Lou, by showing that he is a sociopathic guy possibly with acute obsessive-compulsive disorder. Luckily, this character study works very very well. Jake Gyllenhaal totally nails it to be a meticulous guy who knows how and when to take chances. I’m a bit reminded with his character in “Zodiac”, I mean the way he analyzes his risk concerning the news he collect. Only, while his character in “Zodiac” is a bit laid-back, in “Nightcrawler” he’s real aggressive.

The most important thing is in how the movie makes a great transformation towards its leading character. It’s amazing to see how come a jobless guy makes himself up to employ another jobless guy. (Of course, I’m talking about Lou and Rick here). In “Nightcrawler” we see an incredibly haunting comparison between two guys with seemingly the same status. Both are jobless, but one has high value of himself, while the other relies his value on others. One of the greatest scenes of the movie is when Lou asks Rick how much he wants to get paid for a specific job Lou planned. Rick wants only several dollars (which for him is already a big amount compared to his latest salary), and Lou undeniably agrees it because he knows Rick deserves more. But, since Rick only wanted several dollars, that will be the amount of money paid to him. Deal closed, no more negotiation. Rick could only gulp for disappointment.

So, who’s the boss here? Rick does not know how much he should be paid, but Lou knows. Rick does not know how high he should value himself, but Lou knows.

(That’s how you should prepare yourself before seeking a job: knowing how high you are actually worth)


The lack of balance in showing us more insider look into the newsroom unfortunately makes “Nightcrawler” jumps off from being a good movie about the cruel media. However, after jumping off from a high ground, it finally makes its way to re-launch itself up to be a great character study of a super obsessed guy with nothing in his head but confidence. We should thank Jake Gyllenhaal more.


4 out of 5 stars

2014 / Crime, Drama, Thriller / 117 min / R

cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed,
Rene Russo, Bill Paxton, et al.

written and directed by Dan Gilroy

Akbar Saputra

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