Nightcrawler – Let the Story Speak

Check out this trailer for the new Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle, Nightcrawler – a seedy adventure into the cutthroat, on-the-spot, voyeuristic possibilities in the world of crime journalism.

What makes this trailer work so well is not the promising premise, the clearly Drive-inspired aesthetic design, or even the slow burn buildup of tension across the tight 1 minute 33 seconds of the video.  No, what makes this connect so powerfully is the well chosen placement of shots and their interplay with the narration so that the viewer learns equal amounts of information about the film from the visual sequences as from the spoken audio.

Instead of following the pattern most trailers take – explaining point blank what the narrative is about and the purpose of the work (looking at you, TMNT) – this film’s trailer allows the visual data to show the audience what it needs to know about the characters.  Never once is it mentioned in the trailer what occupation Gyllenhaal’s character is pursuing.  A career in “TV News” is referenced, but it is by the myriad shots of him at crime scenes, listening to a police scanner, and interacting with officers that we learn about his crime journalism interests.

Further, the words spoken by as narration serve only the purpose of opening a window into the mindset of the protagonist, not expositing the central conflict or plot direction.  The monologue builds on the images shown, pitting the entrepenuerial attitude of the character against the somewhat horrific scenes he walks into so blasé.  By keeping his speech self-centric, the images are bolstered and create a dynamic, engaging introduction to the protagonist and the story he will be entering.

However, what sets this trailer over the edge is its masterful use of what I call the “Flying off the Cliff” principle.  In action scenes or in real-life escapades, moments arise where a person is about to make a giant leap to some next level (e.g. jumping off rocks into a lake).  Yet, when analyzed carefully, one will notice that it is not the time spent plummeting or the instance of impact that create the most tension.  Rather, it is that moment just after leaving the ground – a moment of weightless anticipation – that truly produces the drop in the stomach.  Samuel Barber’s 1938 Adagio for Strings” gives a perfect example of this principle, building up to a dramatic climax, then dropping into a long pause before quietly resuming.  It presents the listener with a feeling – a clawing for the note as it wafts away into the sky.

This principle comes into play at the very end of the trailer.  Music swells and the intensity of the editing rhythm quickens, driving to an inevitable crash!  Yet, when the break happens and the screen goes to black, what it comes back to is a near silent shot of Gyllenhaal sitting behind the desk staring at the audience, coyly grinning.  This, more than any “whomp” of a soundtrack or visually jarring hyper-edit of shots, cements the disturbing tone of the film.  Genuine fear arises as to what could have led to that moment – why is it so silent?  It is a profoundly affective moment that delivers exactly what the film wishes to convey.

Nightcrawler will be out in theaters on October 17th, 2014.



About Tyler D. Welch

Filmmaker, Storyteller, Scholar View all posts by Tyler D. Welch

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