Jake is creepy good
Actor Jake Gyllenhaal is so good as a charismatic sociopath in the new thriller “Nightcrawler” that it’s easy to overlook the film’s moral ambiguity. But writer-director Dan Gilroy doesn’t show his cards too early, and by holding back he leads the audience on a wild, often breathtaking ride through the seamy streets of Los Angeles.
It’s there in the City of Angels that we meet Louis Bloom (Gyllenhaal), a petty thief with a penchant for spouting Internet-learned business clichés. He thinks he’s found his calling as a freelance videographer when he learns TV stations pay handsomely for crime scene footage.
Gyllenhaal, gaunt and wide-eyed, plays Lou as a brash, entrepreneurial go-getter apparently devoid of ethical boundaries. His platitudes and relentless drive are often darkly comedic, especially in scenes when he’s training (and exploiting) a hapless new employee (Riz Ahmed). He finds a confidante in news director Nina (a terrific Rene Russo) who is a little put off by the rookie’s bravado but needs the shocking footage he provides to improve her ratings. There is some subtle commentary about the news business itself, an enterprise where the formerly trite mantra “If it bleeds it leads” is now universally accepted SOP.
At the outset, Lou has to learn the ropes the hard way, but he eventually begins to outdo his main competition, a seasoned “stringer” played by the always excellent Bill Paxton. Lou’s willingness to do anything to get the best footage creates palpable tension and at least one superbly filmed car chase.
The film’s unsettling conclusion will likely cause contention among audiences. This isn’t hypocritical hyperbole in the “Natural Born Killers” vein, but it’s hard to determine exactly what “Nightcrawler” has to say about the carnage-for-sale business and the savage soul behind Lou’s demented determination.
But there’s no escaping the fact that “Nightcrawler” stands apart from the crowd at the multiplex, a tight, absorbing thriller despite its rather murky messages.
Rated R for violence including graphic images, and for language.