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November 6, 2014

Nightcrawler (*** ½) R

I’ve always been a big believer that the one of the keys to a great film is to show the audience something that it hasn’t seen before or, at the very least, put a new spin on an old subject. Screenwriter Dan Gilroy’s directorial debut Nightcrawler could probably fit each of those descriptions and succeeds on both counts.  It’s one of those films that works so well because of its depiction of a subject that’s rarely been profiled in the way that it has in this film. The subject here is that of the video crime journalist making his living in the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles (superbly lensed in the film by the incomparable cinematographer Robert Elswit). Of course, we’ve seen these characters in passing as they make token appearances in countless other films but I can’t recall a film entirely devoted to this subject and it’s only one of the reasons the film resonates.

Jake Gyllenhaal continues his trend of investing himself in interesting and arresting projects and this one fits in well with such films as Prisoners and End of Watch, other recent films the actor has appeared in here of late. Here he’s absolutely mesmerizing as Lou Bloom, a youngish man of indeterminate age who’s intent on making something of himself no matter what the cost in terms of human interrelationships.

Jake Gyllenhall is creepy & charming in Nightcrawler

He’s the classic sociopath in its most extreme form. As the film begins we see him stealing scrap metal and attempting to resell it to the highest bidder. It isn’t long before he chances across a horrific car accident, which serves as his introduction to the world of video crime journalism. If Lou has no problem stealing scrap metal in order to support himself financially then one can only imagine what he’ll do in the cutthroat world that he chooses to insert himself.

Along the way, Lou tangles with a competitor (Bill Paxton) who offers Lou a chance to team up with him but Lou wants to be in business without anyone to answer to and the lucrative rewards to which he believes he’s entitled. He also develops a relationship with a news producer (Renee Russo in her best role in quite some time), both personally and professionally that also aids him in his attempts to make his mark. The scene where he bribes Russo’s character into a personal relationship pops and crackles and is remembered long after the film is over.

Nightcrawler is bound to get some comparisons to the 1976 film Network in that it seems to be attempting to make similar statements on the current state of television news as that earlier film did. Both films illuminate the undeniable truth that somewhere along the way, we’ve lost our sense of humanity and ability to empathize with the plight of our fellow human beings in our quest to keep the masses entertained. It’s a sad truth and one of the reasons why Nightcrawler is such a compelling film.

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